Core Austin Team

Niyanta Spelman

Executive Director

Niyanta Spelman is the founder and executive director of Rainforest Partnership. Between 2000 and 2007, Niyanta owned PPPMC Inc, a public sector-oriented management consultancy. Niyanta’s broad public sector experience includes working for the Legislative Budget Board, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the Texas Legislature, the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe located in Budapest, Hungary, and the first lobbying firm in London, England.

Niyanta currently serves on the board of the Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum, based in San Francisco, is an advisor to SxSW Eco and is an adjunct faculty member at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at University of Texas at Austin. She was a founding member of Texas Federation of Asian American Chambers of Commerce, served for several years on the Austin Zoning & Platting and Planning Commissions and on the boards of various nonprofit organizations.

Niyanta grew up in Tanzania and lived in India and England before coming to Texas 25 years ago. She received a B.A. in biology from the University of Texas at Dallas, and a Masters degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin. She and her husband Bill Spelman, a UT professor and an Austin city council member, live in Austin and have two sons, Jasiel and Ronan.


Melissa Matherne

Director of Development and Communications

Melissa Matherne graduated from Louisiana State University in 2004. Since graduation, she has focused solely on non-profit development and management. Philanthropic at heart, she has 10 years of fundraising and non-profit experience fostering relationships at such organizations as the Alliance Safety Council, LSU Museum of Art, Special Olympics Texas, and Citizen Generation, where she was the Development Director. She may "bleed purple and live gold,' but since moving to Austin in 2010 she has grown to love the Austin community and proudly gets her Horns Up on Game Day. While fundraising is her bread and butter, her passion for animals has led her to take on leadership roles in supporting the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary and Austin Pets Alive!. When not working hard to help non-profits continue their valuable missions, she spends her free-time wrangling monsters (2 boxers: Lola & Cash) and mastering the perfect cartwheel. 

Liz Coufal

Rainforest Partner Program

Liz grew up in McKinney, Texas, but proudly calls herself an Austinite. Growing up, she spent her time taking care of animals, playing dress up with her friends, and exploring outside. Little has changed. As a college student at the University of North Texas, Liz founded and successfully ran a campus organization benefiting Invisible Children, an African rights non-profit organization. During her term as President, Liz led the organization to be sponsored as the official club of her university, as well as raising over $5,000

Because of her success running her university’s Invisible Children club, the organization asked her to move San Diego to work for them. During her time there, she coordinated speaking tours throughout the Southwest, managed supporter relations, and coordinated and executed a national awareness event in Orlando, Florida. Liz has spent time volunteering and traveling throughout Africa teaching, completing structural upkeep and providing humanitarian aid to multiple orphanages. Her two trips have had led her to Rwanda, Zambia and Namibia.

She has also spent time on numerous occasions leading lobby groups for human rights and peace issues in her hometown of Dallas as well as in Washington DC. Liz has engaged in peaceful protests, one of which led her to spend a chilly ten nights sleeping outside of a Senator’s office. Needless to say, she doesn’t give up easily. Upon hearing about Rainforest Partnership, she was immediately drawn to their mission of forest conservation and sustainable living.

After marrying her best friend, Steven Coufal, in June 2013, Liz joined Rainforest Partnership’s team as Executive Assistant. On her off time, Liz is currently completing her undergrad in International Studies at Texas State and plans on pursuing a career in International Development. If she’s not at work or studying, you can find her scoping out new bands with her husband or on the StairMaster at the closest gym.  She and her husband hope to one day adopt a three-legged rescue dog.


Jesse Hunt


Jesse Hunt is a graduate student in St. Edward’s University Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Management and Sustainability program. With an undergraduate degree from the University of Vermont in sociology, Jesse developed a desire to serve and learn from other cultures. He served as a water and sanitation volunteer in Peace Corps Honduras where he spent his time fighting the heat, playing soccer, and occasionally, designing potable water systems with a local municipal cooperative. Recently, he created and executed a study on corporate sustainability, which he hopes to soon have published.

Jesse believes deeply in equality both in development work and the business world. He speaks fluent Spanish and dabbled in French in his recent studies abroad. He loves unique challenges and hopes to be part of a more sustainable future in his involvement with Rainforest Partnership and the communities they serve.







Lavanya Selvam Alli

Research and Grant Coordinator

An Austinite for the past five years, Lavanya has previously worked with Environmental Defense Fund, Texas Campaign for the Environment and documentary filmmaker Seema Mathur. In India, Lavanya worked on the research and production of documentaries and media campaigns with a focus on environmental and social issues. One of the documentaries she co-produced for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation was later showcased at the Climate Days Film Festival in Poznan, held in parallel with COP14. An avid photographer, Lavanya loves capturing the essence of people, places and palates wherever she travels.