Sunday, July 20, 2014

Anna Oposa: An Interview with the Chief Mermaid of Save Philippine Seas

Wazzup Pilipinas!

We were very fortunate to interview the Chief Mermaid of the Save Philippine Seas (SPS), Anna Oposa, who was a speaker in one of the events that Wazzup Pilipinas attended which had several social innovators as guests within its three days of learning and interacting with peers who share a common interest: to reach out to our fellow men as a response to social awareness.

Out of the hundreds who registered to be included on the list of attendees for the Dream Expo MNL, I was lucky enough to be one of the 200 chosen to get the opportunity to listen to esteemed speakers who already made a significant impact in society even at a very young age.

One of them was Anna Oposa who was quite remarkable on stage especially with the way she played with words during her presentation. She really commanded attention from the audience.

Below are the questions we presented to her, along with the corresponding answers:

1. Can you tell us about your humble beginnings as a social innovator and how you setup/got involved in your organization? Why did you choose to play an active role in this organization?

To be completely honest, I never dreamt about being a social innovator, and I'm not sure I could call myself one. I don't see what's innovative about what I do, because for me, it just makes sense to do it.

Save Philippine Seas (SPS) began as a response to a massive illegal wildlife trade issue that hit the news in April-May 2011. A group of netizens got together online and decided to start a website called to monitor the issue. It evolved organically into a movement and last year, into an NGO. I chose to play an active role in the organization because I love the work, challenges, and fulfillment that come with it :)

2. What exactly is your organization all about? What are you trying to promote or lead by example and what made you choose this social innovation among others?

SPS is a movement to protect our country's abundant but threatened resources through information, education, and communication activities. It is also a platform where Filipinos can be involved in playing a bigger and more active role in saving the Philippine seas, whether it's by staying aware of the issues through our social media channels, or volunteering for our activities.

3. Who are the other core team members or individuals responsible in running your organization? Please elaborate on their roles or functions.

We've a very lean team of about 5 core members, all doing SPS work on a volunteer basis, depending on the need of the organization at the moment, i.e., if there's an event or activity. About 90% of our collaborative work is done online through email and social media.

4. Do you have partners from private companies, NGOs, the government, and/or other organizations? Who are they and what are their contributions to your organization? Are you open to more partnerships? How can they partner or join your organization?

Yes! We are in constant communication with NGOs such as Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, Greenpeace Philippines, PAWS, and Earth Island Institute-Philippines for joint campaigns, and with government agencies such as DENR and BFAR, and selected local government unit officials and national legislators for policies. When it comes to companies, we've worked with and/or received funding from Human Nature, Lagu, SWIM Philippines (more popularly known as Nothing But H2O), LUSH Cosmetics, and Island Souvenirs, to name a few. We're very grateful for these partnerships, because their networks expand the reach of our advocacy.

5. Do you have a regular/day-time job in a company aside from your organization or are you working full-time for the organization? Can you tell us your role or function in the company? Is your social innovation affecting your work?

I have about 4 other jobs in addition to being Chief Mermaid! I work as a freelance writer (both feature writing and copywriting), public speaker, consultant for the Climate Change Commission and the Asian Development Bank, and freelance project manager. My day jobs and "my social innovation" definitely influence each other. I'm better at my day jobs because of my experience in SPS, and vice versa. But I'm not gonna lie -- it's hard to juggle all of these, plus hobbies I'm passionate about, like triathlon! There are days when I wish had a more stable and "ordinary" job.

6. What is success to you? Can you say that your organization already made a significant contribution to society? In what way was your social innovation beneficial to the country or the people? Please share your accomplishments/achievements so far.

Success for me is being able to make a lasting contribution to society. Oh ha, Miss U?! It's hard to say if our organization has made a significant contribution to society, because in the grand scheme of things ang dami dami pang kailangan gawin. Maybe our stakeholders would be more suited to answer that question. But we will continue to try :) In the Shark Shelter Project in Malapascua, we've succeeded in introducing concepts of marine science and sustainable living in all levels in school, and we just piloted a livelihood program using waste materials. Baby steps.

7. What do you think you will need to explore or work on to improve your organization and its products/services?

My dream is to have a lean team working full-time on SPS, maybe 3-5 people working on partnerships, fundraising, volunteer mobilization, and communication materials. Because everyone in SPS is doing SPS work on a voluntary, part-time basis, progress isn't as fast as I would like it to be.

8. Please share your memorable moments and success stories as part of the organization that personally touched or affected you. Were there any personal disappointments, failures, or regrets?

There have been many, MANY personal disappointments and failures: donors and partners not coming through, volunteers sending in their resume and not getting back to us when we need them, volunteers and even colleagues disappearing mid-job, government officials who are just concerned about themselves.

Ang daming memorable moments. When I started out my shark conservation project in Cebu, several foreigners living/working in Malapascua Island kept questioning me: "What's in it for you?" "What right do you have?" Ganung drama. Na-hurt talaga ako. That was 2 years ago. I wanted to say, "Hello, this is my country and its future at stake." But I've learned to welcome situations like this because I've become stronger and more sure of my purpose.

One of my favorite stories to share is when we took our teachers snorkeling for the first time. Imagine, they've lived in the island all their lives but they had never snorkeled. They were so amazed at the life underwater, that they were inspired to take action and initiate activities in the community. It took me a long time to gain their trust, and it's one of the relationships I treasure the most.

9. What keeps you motivated to continue running/joining this organization? Do you have a specific task or objective in mind that you want your organization to accomplish in the near future? Do you have any plans to expand or offer other/alternative products or services, or specific groups or organizations that you want to reach out to and partner/collaborate with?

The ultimate goal is for SPS to stop existing. Because it means the seas no longer need to be saved, and civil society, the private sector, and government have all learned to value our resources.

We have a series of big activities coming up that target empowering the youth in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao :) Pa-secretive muna.

I would love to work with large international organizations like Mission Blue and National Geographic.

10. What can you share or advise to all aspiring Social Innovators/Entrepreneurs who plan to setup their own organization/business? Please share some tips on how to effectively get started and sustain the dream.

1) The only way to begin is to begin.
2) Done is better than perfect.
3) Dress well. People are always judged for their appearances before they are judged by their minds.
4) Embrace failure and rejection.
5) Take problems of the world seriously, but yourself--never.

Contact Information:

A. Twitter: @SavePHSeas and @annaoposa
B. Facebook:
C. Instagram: @annaoposa
D. Blog site:
E. Website:

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