AANHPI Heritage Month: Celebrating the AANHPI community in conservation

Four people stand in a field with mountains in the background

May is AANHPI (Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander) Heritage Month, which is an important time to amplify the voices of AANHPI staff and celebrate the rich cultures and contributions of their communities, especially within the environmental movement. At WWF, the organization’s AANHPI Employee Resource Group, also known as APEX, fosters a tight-knit community for staff to celebrate their diverse cultures, backgrounds, and journeys in conservation. To celebrate these diverse voices this month, APEX members have been asked the important question:

As an AANHPI working in conservation, what does APEX mean to you?

Read their responses below to learn more about what their cultural identity and involvement in the APEX community means to them at WWF.

Francesca Edralin

Consumer Engagement Associate Specialist, (she/her)

Born to two Filipino immigrants, my Filipino heritage has hugely shaped my love for conservation and passion for environmental justice. Growing up, seeing the Philippines’ beautiful landscapes in need of protection, as well as the unjust impacts of climate change on local communities, has made me want to work in the global environmental movement from a young age. To me, APEX is my “home away from home” in conservation—a safe space where I’m surrounded by other passionate AANHPI individuals whose cultural identities are also deeply intertwined with this work. While there are many global conservation efforts taking place in the Asia-Pacific region, the AANHPI community is still noticeably underrepresented in the conservation industry. Thus, being a part of APEX has been incredibly fulfilling in my career journey – not just to have an intersectional community that celebrates our diverse cultures, but also to collectively increase the representation of AANHPI voices and issues in this movement.

Sanjana Ramesh

Program Operations Associate Specialist, (she/her)

As a first-generation South Asian woman in conservation, APEX has been profoundly meaningful to me. It's a safe space where AANHPI individuals can share their personal journeys and collaborate on environmental issues. Representation is essential in every aspect of society, including conservation, and seeing myself reflected at the intersection of conservation and culture has brought me immense joy. As someone who rarely saw herself represented in the field, joining WWF and APEX has had a tremendously positive impact on me and my overall morale. Together, we are breaking barriers and stereotypes by showcasing the diverse and impactful roles we play in wildlife conservation.

Tara Zokaie

Digital Marketing Specialist, (she/her)

As a Filipino-Persian woman, my connection to the Earth is deeply rooted in my cultural heritage—learning to find profound beauty in simplicity and understanding how to move with the land rather than against it. For me, APEX embodies the bridge between AANHPI traditions and modern conservation efforts. It provides a platform for our voices to be heard and for our ideas to flourish, creating a space where we can challenge ourselves, our colleagues, and our industry to do better for marginalized peoples, as well as the nature they’ve tirelessly protected for generations. By highlighting the importance of listening to AANHPI voices, APEX paves the way for a future where conservation is inclusive, just, community-centered, and filled with hope.

Jessica Leung

Program Manager, Early Talent Diversity Programs, (she/her)

In the past 10+ years of working and studying in the environmental field, I have often found myself in the minority. WWF’s APEX employee resource group is the first place in my career where I can shed some of my armor and be truly seen. Amongst my AANHPI colleagues, I feel safe and encouraged to share my Asian American heritage. As a first-generation Chinese American who immigrated from Hong Kong, APEX fosters an environment where I don’t feel shame or invisibility. It’s a joy to support my fellow AANHPI Pandas' experiences by celebrating shared traditions and learning about each other’s unique journeys.

Brian Chou

Senior Specialist, Ocean Markets Data, (he/him)

As a founding co-chair of APEX and its lead organizer for its first three years, I have had the immense privilege of building, celebrating, and advocating for the AANHPI community at WWF and in conservation, which has empowered us to re-envision conservation at WWF through an AANHPI lens centered around community and justice. APEX has undoubtedly been the most gratifying, challenging, and creative initiative I have ever been a part of, one that is so deeply personal that I consider this employee resource group an extension of myself, an unapologetic reflection of my roots, my values, and my identity as a first-generation Chinese American. This group has also given me a renewed sense of purpose in my work on the Oceans team, and APEX’s efforts have resonated similarly with many colleagues across unique teams. It continues to serve as an outlet for AANHPI creativity, resource and partnership development, and education across WWF, all of which support the organization’s collective commitment to more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and just conservation. APEX’s contributions to WWF’s organizational culture and vision simply fill me with pride and joy, as I know that our AANHPI community is (and has always been) foundational to the conservation movement.

Drew Aral

Donor Communications & Stewardship Coordinator, (he/him)

Born to Japanese and Turkish immigrants, I grew up understanding intercultural communication as a norm. And despite the diversity of thought, ethnicities, and internal teams represented amongst our members, APEX has further illustrated to me how connections can form amongst any group of people. At our best, APEX is an example of conservation building bridges across cultures all around the world.

Nilanga Jayasinghe

Manager, Asian Species Conservation, (she/her)

For me, APEX has been such a meaningful and amazing community at WWF that I’ve been incredibly proud to be part of, both as a member and co-chair. As a Sri Lankan American immigrant who has now lived longer outside my place of birth, often embracing feelings of both belonging and not belonging anywhere, this community and my conservation work on the ground in Asia have made me reconnect with my home continent in a very profound way. Conservation and food are key themes that often come up in our APEX conversations, and we not only relate and connect over our shared Asian heritage but also celebrate the differences that make the Asian continent so diverse.

David Ramarui

Senior Administrative Assistant, Earth for Life, (he/him)

As someone who is half-Palauan and half-American, APEX has given me a great sense of community with others who are also AANHPI in the conservation space. Culturally, Palau is a collective matriarchal society that is deeply connected with the natural world. The ocean and land mean so much to us. Having APEX at WWF beautifully ties together my passion for environmental conservation rooted in a deep cultural understanding and a sense of community with others who share the perspective of coming from a collective culture. It means a lot to me to be with everyone in APEX.