Matching the expertise, technical experience and money of big corporations with small environmental groups

Image above: Danjugan Island, Philippines

Chiswick woman Rhoda Phillips sets up a new environmental charity – Communities for Nature

A woman in Chiswick is setting up a new charity to try and match the expertise and support of people working in large corporations in the UK with small environmental groups working around the world.

Filipina Rhoda Phillips lives with her British husband Andrew in Bedford Park. They met when she was the manager of Danjugan island, a tiny uninhabited island in the Negros Occidental province in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines, which had been bought by an environmental charity in the 1990s.

She was organising environmental education programmes in the area. He was a volunteer, using his data collection skills to carry out an environmental survey of the area.

Fast forward a couple of decades, they are married with children and he is now Group Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the global financial technology company LMAX Group.

His firm, which provides a platform for trading currencies, including Bitcoin, is providing the prototype partnership which they hope will provide a model for other partnerships with between other companies and environmental groups.

Image above: Danjugan Island, Philippines

Danjugan island

The Philippines is projected to be one of the most vulnerable countries to the impact of climate change. An archipelago of 7,641 islands, less than a third of which are inhabited, it is already prone to natural disasters – earthquakes, typhoons and volcanic eruptions.

It is also an emerging market, newly industrialised, in transition from an agriculture-based economy to one which relies on manufacturing and services, including tourism, a growth area. Over the course of the 20th century, forest cover in the islands has diminished from around 70% of the land to 20%. Between 1934 and 1988 9.8 million acres of forest were lost.

In recent years environmentalists have put pressure on Filipino politicians to pass clean air and water acts, but the environment continues to be under threat from illegal logging and fishing.

Rhoda was not long out of university and starting out on a career in banking when she saw an advertisement for the job of manager of Danjugan island – 43 hectares of forest, limestone, beach and mangroves with five lagoons and 100 hectares of seagrass beds and coral reefs.

“I wasn’t a marine biologist and I didn’t know the local language, but I applied anyway” she told me.

She had some experience of working with far flung communities through work experience during her business degree, providing literacy programmes through local government and managed to  convince the new owners of the island, the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation, of her commitment to making a difference.

Image above: Danjugan Island, Philippines

Saving the Eagle Tree

The key focus in buying the island had been to save the ‘eagle tree’ from being cut down – a tree where pairs of white bellied sea eagles had been nesting and breeding since 1974 – but it was also to preserve the spawning grounds for many species of fish, for sharks and turtles which are considered keystone animals in healthy marine ecosystems, the forest with its many species of flora and fauna and the quality of the water, with some 244 species of hard corals.

“We wanted to make it sustainable and for that we had to persuade the local fishermen that we could do it without taking away their livelihood.”

She was essentially asking them not to fish in the spawning grounds. They could fish, but just not in certain areas. First she learned Ilonggo, the local language. Then she set up education programmes to win hearts and minds.

“I was a young girl from the city. I couldn’t speak the language. It took me a year. It was a very male environment. They were older and quite physically intimidating sometimes. There was one night one of them came to the staff house very angry and waving a machete. The next day he came and apologised.”

There was also the time she insisted her crew take her out to a big commercial fishing boat, fishing illegally, which she boarded and where she stayed until the police, the media and relevant authorities arrived.

Andrew first had experience of doing conservation work in Belize in his 20s, when he had just finished his PhD in solar physics. He went to the Philippines and Danjugan Island in his early 30s when he had a gap year in between his first career as an academic, an astronomer, and his second career with the LMAX Group.

He contributed his expertise in remote sensing to help them make maps of the seabed and Rhoda was his boss.

“It is always fantastic to go back there” he told me, I have been involved since 1997 and the boat boys helping me then are now grown up with kids of their own, helping with the conservation projects.”

Image above: Danjugan Island, Philippines

Today’s youth, tomorrow’s conservationists

The area has a particularly young population – more than half are below the age of 21. The Reef and Rainforest charity takes the view that if they can invite them into their environmental camps to do fun things as children and learn about how to look after their environment, they will grow up as conservationists.

It is a strategy that has paid off.

‘Every summer in the Philippines for over two decades, 12-17 year-olds from all over Negros – and now from other parts of the country and the world – come to live in the island for a period of time, with scientists, divers and conservationists.

‘Exploration of the island’s diverse ecosystems and encountering its wildlife, while learning skin diving or snorkelling, trekking, kayaking and birding, constitute the daily schedule.

‘As they interact with professionals in the fields of science and conservation, they too find the inspiration and motivation to pursue similar careers and advocacies.

‘And even if they do not become marine biologists or ecologists, it is the vision of the programme that camp alumni turn this appreciation of nature into actions necessary for sustainable development, especially when they eventually take on leadership roles as adults,’ says the charity.

Andrew told me he felt privileged to have been involved in the conservation of Danjugan island, now demonstrably and measurably better off for several decades of conservation work. He is pleased to count Gerry Ledesma, who he describes as the Philippines’ David Attenborough, as his friend.

He is involving his team, with the blessing of the firm’s CEO, in giving their time, their technical expertise and money to support the conservation work of the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation.

Image above: Danjugan Island, Philippines


The charity Rhoda is setting up, Communities for Nature, does not yet have charitable status. The Charities Commission has a backlog of work since the pandemic. One of the issues they will no doubt look at is the degree to which corporations are required to give genuine help.

It makes perfect sense for a financial trading platform to seek some green credentials, especially when they trade in Bitcoin, which has a very bad reputation for using up environmental resources, as it is powered by armies of fossil fuel-powered machines.

This is where we disappeared down a bit of a rabbit hole. Bear with me on this journey. I barely know what Bitcoin is, let alone Bitcoin ‘mining’, but given we are committed to electronic transactions for the financial world to function, it is important to understand who are the baddies in this.

Bitcoin is very inefficient, Andrew explained, whereas the LMAX exchange is super-efficient. Many millions of transactions can be processed on the LMAX systems with only the daily net result – usually a handful of transactions – being placed on the Bitcoin blockchain, both accelerating trading and avoiding the environmental impact of processing everything on chain.

To put it in perspective, a Google search uses 1-2 kJ of energy, the same as an LMAX Exchange transaction. Making a single cup of tea uses 68 kJ. A Bitcoin blockchain transaction uses 7,527,600 kJ.

The way they deal in Bitcoin is as environmentally friendly as it can be, he said, and they prefer to use the more energy efficient and newer Proof of Stake blockchains like Solana and Ethereum.

The equipment they use, once it becomes obsolete, is donated to the Turing Trust which sends it to good homes. And yes, his team’s commitment to helping the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation is genuine.

Image above: Danjugan Island, Philippines

Extending the programme to other corporations and other areas of the world

With her partnership with her husband’s firm as the blueprint, Rhoda is hoping once she gets charitable status for Communities for Nature she will be able to set up other partnerships. She is already looking at Madagascar and Nepal as potential places of interest.

If you think this might be of interest to your firm, you can contact Rhoda through her website.

Image above: Danjugan Island, Philippines

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