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.

Melissa joined the RP team in 2014 as the Director of Marketing & Development for Rainforest Partnership. Here she works to channel her passion for creating equality both in development work and the business world, and hopes to be part of a more sustainable future.

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. While in high school, Liz found her passion of social justice and advocating for anything to animal welfare to ending wars. 

She spent her college days lobbying elected officials for human rights, sleeping outside of a Senator's office and leading her campus' most successful student led organization. As a sophomore, she took an internship in San Diego to work for Invisible Children, a nonprofit working to end Africa's longest running war. 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.

After graduating from Texas State University with an International Development degree, Liz came on staff at Rainforest Partnership first as the Executive Assistant and then moving to become the Partners Program Coordinator. She loves getting people involved in our mission, so don't be surprised if she invites you to our next event. When she's not at work, Liz can be found at her local barre studio or paddle boarding down Lady Bird Lake with her partner in crime, Steven. 



Lavanya Selvam Alli

Project and Research Associate

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.