Editor’s note: more than 200 civic and business leaders, engaged citizens and educators gathered in a vacant industrial space at the Rackspace Castle Tuesday to help produce a SA2020 Progress Report and Best Practices as the two-year-old initiative evolves from a statement of citywide aspirations to specific undertakings that are now being measured as on or off track. As part of the process, SA2020 released this Indicator Report

The Molly Cox. Photo Credit: Charles Mims at TEDxSanAntonio

I was introduced to SA2020 the same way most everyone else was. I attended a public meeting to answer questions posed by Mayor Julián Castro:

  • “In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing San Antonio today?”
  • “When you think about the future, 10 years from now, what is the most important aspect of living in San Antonio that you hope is PRESERVED or MAINTAINED?”
  • “Again thinking about the future 10 years from now, if you could CHANGE or IMPROVE one thing about San Antonio, what would that be?”
Mayor Julian Castro leads the planning process on September 25, 2010. Photo courtesy of SA2020.
Mayor Julián Castro leads the planning process on September 25, 2010. Photo courtesy of SA2020.

I, like some of you, thought, “Hey! Why are you screaming at me with CAPSLOCK?”

Then I started to pay attention.

From October 2010 to January 2011, San Antonians – myself included – were charged with the following:

  1. Develop a visioning framework.
  2. Determine how to measure progress.
  3. Decide what ultimate success will look like.

I thought, “Wait a second … you want me to tell you how our city could be more awesome?”

The idealist in me was doing a dance – think cross between the chicken dance and the new jack swing (holla, 80s kids!). The realist in me was participating reluctantly. It was the same type of participation I do in an election – “I’ll do it, but only because if it doesn’t work out, I have a legitimate reason to complain.”

This is me, at one of the first SA2020 public meetings. Forgive my hair. Photo courtesy of SA2020.
This is me at one of the first SA2020 public meetings. Forgive my hair. Photo courtesy of SA2020.

On March 19, 2011, a published report outlining the community’s demands for 11 SA2020 cause areas, their accompanying vision statements, as well as 65 metrics and targets that would determine success in these areas, was delivered to the public. It’s a long report (sort of like that last sentence), but you can read it here.

So, we had a community vision.

Now, in most communities – just like most nonprofits – those strategic plans typically end up on a shelf. Generally, we pat ourselves on the back and say things like, “Well, that was a fun process,” and then we go on about our daily lives.

But not this time.

Disclaimer: Here comes the “Celebrate the Awesome” soapbox.

As SA2020 shifted out of "planning mode," Darryl Byrd takes the stage in 2012 as CEO at our first public convening. Photo courtesy SA2020.
As SA2020 shifted out of “planning mode,” Darryl Byrd takes the stage in 2012 as CEO at our first public convening. Photo courtesy SA2020.

In August 2011, Darryl Byrd was hired to be the CEO of SA2020. You might recognize him as the guy who spearheaded another pretty successful project (“development” for all you fancy developers) known as the Pearl Brewery.

Over the course of approximately six months, Darryl began amassing a brilliant team (I use that term objectively, of course, as a member of said team) and started laying the foundation for what would ultimately be SA2020, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

SA2020, which started as the brainchild of Mayor Julián Castro, became its own nonprofit organization in February 2012. While the Mayor still sits as Chairman of the Board for SA2020, (along with eight other fancy cats) and The City still offers important support – it’s actually up to SA2020 as an organization and the community as a whole to make the vision of SA2020 into a reality.

And that’s what we’re doing.

The community vision that could have gone on a shelf became this real-life, fully functioning organization.

Thirteen lead agencies (two are partnerships) work with SA2020 to convene stakeholders and assess data and outcomes. Nearly 80 nonprofit and governmental agencies are actively providing opportunities for the community to directly link their actions – through volunteerism or attendance – to the 65 indicators that connect to the 11 SA2020 Causes (such as downtown, arts & culture, education and economic competitiveness).

In fact, if you are with an agency that you think can offer opportunities to the public that directly affect our community vision, fill out an application and start the process to become an SA2020 partner.

A handful of companies have stepped forward as what we call “Champions,” focusing 75% of their philanthropic and volunteer efforts in Causes they have chosen. Another handful of area funders have realigned or are in the process of realigning their funding based on SA2020 indicators.

The team that selfies together, stays together. Here, the SA2020 Team, shows that we believe our future is bright. Photo courtesy SA2020.
The team that selfies together, stays together. Here, the SA2020 Team, shows that we believe our future is bright. Photo courtesy SA2020.

Over 1,500 individual profiles have been created on SA2020.org, our state-of-the-art matching system to directly link you to the to opportunities within the Causes about which you are most passionate.

Behind all this; six staffers, seven Trinity/Mellon Fellows, and three Teach For America teachers are now working for SA2020 (or about to start). 

The mission of SA2020 is to catalyze the entire San Antonio community into passionate, focused, and sustained action to achieve the shared goals that will transform San Antonio into a world-class city by the year 2020.

SA2020 is tracking these goals, and will report back to the city on our progress as a community. This includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Heck, we even contracted with the State Demographer’s Office to make sure this data was real. And we’ll be releasing the SA2020 Indicator Report – what amounts to the city’s first report card – today, June 4, at 2 p.m.

The SA2020 Indicator Report. A link to full report will become available at 2 p.m. today, after the meeting at Rackspace.
The SA2020 Indicator Report. Click photo to download the report.

If we’re on track to meet our SA2020 goal, we’ll tell you. For instance, we’ll show you a reduction of the unsheltered, homeless persons in San Antonio.

If we’re making progress, like in adult educational attainment, but not at the rate we need it: We’ll tell you.

If we are still reviewing an indicator for quality, utility, and collectibility: we’ll tell you – this is happening in several of the original indicators.

If we met a goal, we’ll celebrate it – teen pregnancy rates and police response times are two examples.

If we’re off track – going backwards instead of forwards – we’ll ask you to help us get serious about it.

This data is the foundation of our efforts – yours and mine – toward improvement. It should drive us toward action.

At SA2020, we work on three words: engagement, alignment, and accountability.

In other words, if San Antonio really is to become a “world-class city,” SA2020’s role is to provide a hub for all the things – programs, organizations, people – that are making us great (engagement), then help focus all those energies toward the same goal (alignment), and make sure, ultimately, that it’s actually happening (accountability).

There is a rigor to the data collection that includes continuous assessment because we want to make sure we’re measuring the right things that will ultimately affect the areas we said were important to our future. There is a rigor to our partnerships that includes outcome measurements directly linked to data indicators because we want to make sure that our partners are moving the needles in the directions we say we want them to go.

And underneath it all is a shared vision that we created to make our city even better.

Keeping the energy alive and totally loving working out (in pictures)…that's me. Nothing a good dose of Siclovia can't cure. Photo courtesy SA2020.
Keeping the energy alive and totally loving working out (in pictures)…that’s me. Nothing a good dose of Siclovia can’t cure. Photo courtesy SA2020.

While there is excitement in sitting in a room and talking about change, there is something electric about the fact that we’re making the change happen.

San Antonio is a city on the rise, and we’re building it together.

So, I unapologetically celebrate the awesome.

I am filled with joy every time I see progress in our city. Is it hard work? Absolutely.

But at the end of the day, (or on September 25, 2020, to be exact) you and I will be able to sit back, look around at the work we’ve done, and think, “Holy Sweet Oprah, we transformed a city.”

And, quite frankly, that’s something to celebrate.

Molly grew up in Corpus Christi, TX where she spent the majority of her adult life as a radio “personality.” She received her BA in theatre from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, then went on to get her master’s degree in political science from UTSA. Molly worked as the Director of UTSA’s Center for Policy Studies, where she led the Nonprofit Management and American Humanics Programs. Her focus in nonprofit capacity building grew to include her own consulting business, Nonprofit Fancy Pants. In March 2013, she joined SA2020 as the Chief of Engagement. Find her on Twitter: @themollycox.

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… This could go on for quite awhile … Check out our stories tagged with SA2020.

After a decade with SA2020, Molly Cox founded Molly Cox Consulting in March 2021. She is in the current cohort of The University of Texas at Austin LBJ Women’s Campaign School.