On December 1st, 2007, at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning, three people – Hazel, Barbour, Bob Warneke and Jordan Erdos – who had not met each other until that morning, and I, Niyanta Spelman, came together for a whole day planning session.

By noon, we had a Mission and a Vision statement. By 6 pm, we had a six-month strategic plan. And, that day, Rainforest Partnership took form. What had been my vision until then became our collective vision. Starting from a business plan creating over the previous 3 months, to the output of our day together, we had a great foundation. Guided by a three page long agenda, created and facilitated by Beth Caplan who had made each of one of us do pre-work ahead of our meeting together and with each of whom she had prior phone meetings, we were off-the-charts productive.

At the working lunch, we ate with guest Victor Emmanuel and in the afternoon, a parallel session took place for communications with Marcus Sanford and Josh Rosenquist and work started on a name, website ideas, and communications plan.

The three, Hazel Barbour, Bob Warneke and Jordan Erdos, became the founding board members for Rainforest Partnership when we were created on December 17th.  On the 17th, we already had a website created by Josh Rosenquist, and at a follow-up communications meeting, we picked Rainforest Partnership as the name over Rainforest Community Partnership; our business plan anticipated how we would work at community level, something that has remained as our core to this day.

On the 18th, we held our organizing meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel on 15th Street in Central Austin where we collectively decided that Hazel would be Chair, Bob would be Treasurer and Jordan our Secretary, and that I would serve as an ex-officio board member and the executive director.  That same day, we established our Fund at the Austin Community Foundation and deposited our first two donations, from Hazel Barbour and from my husband and I.

On December 27th, we held the first introduction to Rainforest Partnership at a party at my house and it became a mini-fundraiser raising us over $5000.

On January 4th, the three founding board members interviewed and invited Pauline Lewis to be the 4th Boardmember. And, on January 14th, with my husband Bill Spelman and younger son Ronan in toe, we took off to Central and South America, to Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama, in that order. The next five months allowed me to establish the extensive network that we created for Rainforest Partnership that serves us to this day, helped us find team members as well as identify potential partner communities.

Two Board members made trips to join me as well. Jordan Erdos came to Ecuador and Hazel Barbour came to Peru. These trips were really important as we continued working towards establishing the organization. Upon my return, the four board members and I, facilitated by Beth Caplan, spent two days taking our findings to chart the path forward. It was in the Summer that we adopted our objective Community Selection Criteria that we use to this day. It is was in May that we brought on our first team member in Peru, Lucia Eslava and it was in November 2008 that we funded our first project.

It was quite a year, long days and a lot of work but exciting as we build the foundation for the organization that serves us to this day.

Ten Years is a long time. I feel a deep gratitude to all that have been part of our journey these ten years. From our partner communities to our funders and supporters to the hundreds of our interns and volunteers that have made it possible for us to do as much as we have. To the next ten years…    

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