Niyanta Spelman is the founder and executive director of Rainforest Partnership. Knowing from an early age that she wanted her life's work to be about protecting tropical rainforests, she took a long way getting there, along the way picking up critical knowledge, experiences and education. After a month's long search that included extensive research and speaking to about 200 people, the idea for Rainforest Partnership formed. A vision developed and a business plan, a rarity for a nonprofit. This vision became a collective vision with the founding board and Rainforest Partnership was born on December 17, 2007.
Niyanta with the help of a team in Peru, Texas and elsewhere leads the organization in fulfilling the mission of protecting tropical rainforests. This team has included scores of high-functioning volunteers and interns to date, almost 30 of whom have gone to volunteer in the Amazon.
Being an international citizen comes easily to Niyanta, who grew up in Tanzania, went to boarding school in India, and worked for the first lobbying firm in London before moving to Texas. Before founding Rainforest Partnership, Niyanta spent several years running a management consultancy and worked with the majority of Texas environmental agencies as part of a legislative agency. She has also chaired a chamber of commerce and a neighborhood association, and has served on the Austin planning commission and on a national health advocacy board.
At Rainforest Partnership, Lavanya is responsible for the development, research and analysis of the organization's projects in Peru and Ecuador and works directly with project managers to advance project goals and objectives. This includes leading the development of an application to UNESCO for the designation of a Biosphere Reserve. Lavanya implements Rainforest Partnership's model of working directly with rainforest communities as part of an integrated team that spans locations and functions, from community based project coordinators to legal and technical personnel. Using innovative approaches and communication tools, Lavanya coordinates the core work of Rainforest Partnership.
Lavanya has previously worked with Environmental Defense Fund in Austin. In India, Lavanya's work involved the research and production of documentaries and campaigns with a focus on environmental and social issues for organizations and initiatives including the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Aga Khan Foundation, World Vision and the Mangroves for the Future initiative, co-chaired by IUCN and UNDP.
Lavanya's graduate work in the UK led her to nominations with the South West Screen in Bristol, England and later on with the UK Environmental Film Fellowships awarded by British Council in India.
Beth is responsible for the planning, implementation, oversight and evaluation of mutually beneficial partnerships at Rainforest Partnership. Beth's involvement with the organization began as our strategic planner at our founding in December 2007. Since then, she has served in that role and as a strategic advisor to our Executive Director. Beth's commitment to the organization stems from the empowerment Rainforest Partnership gives her, and all of us, to make a measurable difference in tropical rainforest protection through our rainforest community-based projects.
A professional analyst whose range includes strategic planning, tactical analysis, project management, and strategic alliances. Beth's experience is rooted in her two decade career at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and furthered by her subsequent work with nonprofit organizations. She finished her NASA career working on strategic alliances for the International Space Station (ISS) in a dual assignment to the ISS's External Relations Office and as JSC's Chief Financial Officer's Lead for Commercialization. Among Beth's professional recognition is a JSC Certificate of Commendation specifically honoring her for her "dedication and performance in planning and implementing ground-breaking commercialization activities."
That transformative experience is what fuels her current passion for creating valuable partnerships that enable all parties to better achieve their goals. She believes in the power of strategic alliances to enable each participating organization to do good for each other while they do good for the world together.
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.
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.