Antoinette Taus: Finding meaning in protecting the planet

Photo from Antoinette Taus’ Instagram Account

Biodiversity conservation was never truly in the plans of Filipina actress Antoinette Taus, but today, it is where she finds the most meaning.

The Filipino-American celebrity started her career in television as a teen actress in 1990s, becoming one of the most recognizable faces in the Philippine entertainment industry. Later on in her life, she made the pivot to humanitarian work, advocating for several causes such as mental health and environmental protection.

Driven by her passion for sustainability and in protecting the planet, Taus founded the Communities Organized for Resource Allocation, or CORA. The non-profit organisation, which began its work in 2016, is centered on volunteerism to help solve global challenges, such as hunger, poverty, inequality and climate change.

She is also one of the ambassadors of the #WeAreASEANBiodiversity campaign of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), a three-year campaign that aims to raise public awareness and mobilise support for biodiversity conversation across different sectors.

Taus said she was primarily inspired by her mother Cora, whom she lost to cancer in 2004, to help and bring people together for a common good.

“CORA is really about volunteers, people that give whatever they can in their own capacity,” said Taus, who is also a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Goodwill Ambassador.

They were initially inspired by a movement in Los Angeles, California called #HashtagLunchbag, a feeding program for people in need. Along with friends and family members, she had replicated this act of kindness, which eventually led to the creation of CORA, which was named after Taus’ late mother.

Women for the planet

After learning about food waste and sustainability, CORA began its work on environment and climate change. It started with coastal cleanups in the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, a 175-hectare protected area and Ramsar site in Metro Manila. The wetland hosts a mangrove forest and is an important habitat for migratory bird species that traverses the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

During these cleanups, CORA also partnered and engaged with other celebrities, including Angie Mead King, who is also an ambassador of the #WeAreASEANBiodiversity campaign.

As an ambassador for Oxfam Pilipinas, Taus said she also learned about gender-based issues and began to incorporate it in CORA’s projects. Her organisation works with Bakawan Warriors, who are primarily composed of women, during the coastal cleanups.

“Women don’t just need to be supported,” she said. “They are true agents of change and are needed in all aspects of change and solutions.”

Understanding the important and unique role of women in environmental protection, CORA launched the WoMangrove Warriors program in Leyte province to help rehabilitate degraded mangroves and protect existing ones. Powered by women, this nature-based solution protects coastal areas, helps mitigate climate change, and provides opportunities for livelihood and support for women and children.

In 2018, CORA also launched “Clean Seas Pilipinas” as part of the UNEP #CleanSeas global campaign. The yearlong campaign engaged governments, civil society, private sector and the general public to work on solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.

This June, the first ever Circular Center in the country, a pilot project by CORA and funded by the USAID “Clean Cities, Blue Ocean” program, was made official through a signing of an agreement with key partners from the local government of Parañaque, the local parish and CORA. 

The circular center, located at the Materials Recovery Facility of Barangay San Isidro, is envisioned to serve as a comprehensive model for the recovery and division of clean, dry and segregated solid waste and to support existing mechanisms in the city’s solid waste management. It will be operated by 10 women hailed as CORA’s Circular Center Champions.

Creating partnerships, networks

Building and nurturing an organisation is by no means an easy task. Taus said that she also did not know how to start CORA at first, but knew that taking the first step was important.

“If there’s one thing I really learned, it’s that you can start in your own space, and that’s exactly how CORA began. Start wherever you are, wherever that positive energy is, with likeminded people,” she said. “For us, we did not know that we were going to have a nonprofit [organisation]. That wasn’t the goal or the intention. It was just really to make an impact.”

“That first step will lead to that incredible journey ahead… You don’t have to have the whole journey mapped out, just have the beginning prepare for,” she added.

Taus said forming a community is significant in making waves. This includes finding and creating the right partnerships, such as with ACB, which she said has really empowered CORA to continue their work.

“CORA is very, very proud to have the #WeAreASEANBiodiversity campaign as one of our superstar initiatives for us to be able to reach out not just to people across the Philippines, but across the ASEAN region,” she said. 

“Our issues across the ASEAN region they may look a little different on the ground, but in reality, they are still interconnected… The local actions that we take in each of our communities—from forest to coastal areas—also have a united and collective impact towards the different species that visit the different countries,” she added.

Taus said young people who are also seeking to make change in their own communities can find valuable partners in and with ACB.

We are all united in every aspect of how the world is impacted by human activity,” she said. “By being able to work closely in the ASEAN region, with the different partners that are connecting us in the ACB, there is so much more of a sustainable and meaningful impact that we can make by working together.”