NIYANTA SPELMAN - CEO
Niyanta Spelman, founder and executive director of RP, knew from an early age that she wanted her life’s work to focus on protecting tropical rainforests.
A winding path took her from childhood in Tanzania and boarding school in India, to work at the first lobbying firm in London. After moving to Texas, she ran a management consultancy and worked with Texas environmental agencies as part of a legislative agency. She chaired a chamber of commerce, served on the Austin planning commission, and sat on a national health advocacy board.
Along the way, she gathered critical knowledge, experiences and education. Then in 2007, she began conducting extensive research and holding in-depth conversations with about 200 people. The idea for Rainforest Partnership crystallized, followed by a business plan – a rarity for a nonprofit. The inspiration became a collective vision with the selection of a founding board, and RP was born on December 17, 2007.
Niyanta now leads a dedicated team in Peru, Texas, and elsewhere in fulfilling RP’s mission to protect tropical rainforests.
JUAN MILLAN - Director of Projects, Latin America
Juan Millan, RP’s Director of Projects for Latin America, previously served as RP’s legal representative in Peru, where he was instrumental in implementing and managing RP’s legal matters and coordinating with local, provincial, regional, and national governmental agencies.
Juan has extensive training in the execution of development projects in international organizations, along with broad experience working with the native and indigenous communities of Peru. His approach to environmental conservation emphasizes protection of the forests through projects promoting economic sustainable activities.
In his 20 years as a lawyer, Juan has served as an advisor to the Peru Subsidiary of NGO Mennonite Economic Development Associates, the NGO Mechanism of Alternating Developments, and the Natural Resources and Environment Management division of the regional government of Junín. He was also legal manager of the regional government of Huancavelica in Peru.
Juan holds a Masters’ degree in International Economic Law from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. He also serves as a professor at Universidad Peruana Los Andes (UPLA) in Huancayo and Lima, and Alas Peruanas University (UAP) in Lima.
MARIELA PALACIOS GONZALEZ - Director of Projects, Austin HQ
Mariela Palacios Gonzalez currently works directly with the Executive Director of Projects in Austin, over-seeing the development of all project objectives and their implementation. She works closely with RP’s teams in Peru and Austin on the compilation of project data and project processes.
Mariela has a M.S in Biodiversity of Tropical Areas and Conservation from Menéndez Pelayo International University and a B.S In Ecology from University Foundation of Popayan. During her time as a graduate student, Mariela focused on the conservation of amphibian habitats in Northwestern Ecuador.
Mariela has worked with many different ecosystems ranging from the tropical dry forest and the tropical Amazonian rainforest to the biogeographical region of Choco. She worked on several projects in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, as a consultant for leading environmental conservation organizations including World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy. As a consultant for the Colombian Government, she coordinated hydrographic basin management plans. Prior to that, she served as a Biology teacher at Amazon State University in Ecuador.
BETH CAPLAN - Chief Strategy Officer
Beth Caplan is responsible for the planning, development, implementation, evaluation, and oversight of mutually beneficial partnerships. She has worked with RP since its inception, as strategic planner and then strategic advisor to our Executive Director.
A professional analyst whose skillset includes strategic planning, project management, and strategic alliances, Beth’s experience is rooted in her two decade career at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and subsequent work with nonprofit organizations. Her last chapter at NASA focused on pursuing space commercialization and strategic alliances for the International Space Station Program. That transformative experience fuels her passion for building strategic alliances enable each partner to achieve their goals while they do good for the world together.
EUSEBIO ALANYA QUIÑONES - Community-based Coordinator, Colibri Cloudforest Project
Eusebio Alanya Quiñones is a natural leader from the Colibri Cloudforest region. With his wife and two children, Eusebio grows coffee in his chakra, like others in their San Antonio community. During an internship with Colibri Expeditions, Eusebio traveled to Ecuador to learn about ecotourism. In September 2010, he joined RP as the community-based coordinator for the Colibri Cloudforest ecotourism project.
Working directly with the communities of San Antonio and Calabaza and RP teams in Peru and Austin, Eusebio is developing the cloudforest ecotourism project. His work focuses on sustainable conservation through the creation of protected areas, coordination with different governmental entities, and engagement with engineers and specialists. Eusebio is also currently studying administration at a university in Satipo funded by RP.
VOLODYMYR IZERSKYY - Entomologist
Dr. Volodymyr Izerskyy is an entomologist specializing in the breeding and reproduction of insects in Europe (Ukraine and Russia), Africa (Kenya), and Asia (Philippines and Laos). He has nearly 20 years of experience in butterfly conservation management in Peru, and has published papers on the taxonomy of nocturnal and diurnal butterflies.
Dr. Izerskyy currently serves as the legal representative and general manager of the Victoria SAC, a conservation concession area of 2,470 acres neighboring the UNCP conservation concession area and the San Antonio community in Peru. He also manages a wildlife rescue area permitted and supported by the federal government of Peru. With the help of local community members, he rehabilitates and reintroduces illegally poached species into their natural habitat.
Working with Eusebio Quinones, he will lead training for the implementation and maintenance of the butterfly sanctuary.
AUBREY LEBLANC - Rainforest Partner Coordinator
Aubrey LeBlanc is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in International Relations. She became interested in doing conservation work when she studied abroad in Botswana with UT and conducted research on how deforestation affects carbon emissions.
After graduating, she worked as an Outbound Sales Representative at a solar energy company. She decided that she wanted to do more international development work so she started volunteering at Rainforest Partnership, eventually transitioning to becoming part of the team. Her role is multi faceted. As the Rainforest Partner Coordinator, she maintains donor relations and helps plan events, assists the Executive director, and works with Rainforest Partnership outreach.
ALEXANDER SANTA MALDONADO - Media Producer
Alexander Santa Maldonado currently works with media production, mainly shooting and video editing the audiovisual material to spread the Rainforest Partnership message to our audiences.
Alexander has a M.S in New Trends and Innovation Processes in Communication from University Jaume I, Spain, and a B.S in Social Communication and Journalism from University of Antioquia, Columbia. During his time as a graduate student, Alexander focused on media production for communities with educational goals.
Alexander has worked with many different media projects ranging from educational documentaries to travel series. He has also served as an assistant researcher and teacher in audiovisual production, video editing, and cinema history for the University of Antioquia and the Cooperative University of Colombia.
LINDA BERGMANN - Accountant
Linda Bergmann retired from the State of Texas after 21 years working as a manager and accountant at several state agencies, including nine years at Texas Parks and Wildlife as Director of Financial Management. She began volunteering her skills as the accountant for Rainforest Partnership in 2013. The mission of RP is dear to her heart, and she finds working with the staff to be a rewarding experience. Linda also works with other non-profits, and enjoys gardening, traveling with her husband, and spending time with her grandchildren.
Board of Directors
HAZEL BARBOUR - Board Chair
Hazel worked for many years at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), where she was the manager of the agency’s Mobile Source Emission Reduction Programs. When she learned that more carbon is released into the atmosphere from cutting down and burning trees than from all the cars and trucks in the world, Hazel decided that helping Niyanta start Rainforest Partnership could be a positive way to make a difference regarding carbon emissions and climate change.
Hazel’s past work experience includes serving as Shell UK’s first community affairs adviser. She was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire medal from Queen Elizabeth II for her service to the UK community through her work at Shell. A graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, Hazel researched the effects of climate change on the state of Texas in the early 1990s, before most people were paying attention to this critical subject. She believes that RP’s model and way of working is one of the keys to saving the rainforests for us all.
LUIS FELIPE DUCHICELA - Board Member
Luis Felipe Duchicela joined our board in 2015 and has known Rainforest Partnership’s work and the team since our inception. He introduced RP to our Ecuadorian partner CyD, which led to the creation of our Sani Isla project, and he continues to serve RP with the wise counsel and substantial experience gained from his work in the private, government, and nonprofit sectors throughout Latin America.
Luis Felipe is Ecuadorian, of Quechua descent from the Puruha People of the Chimborazo province in the central Andes of Ecuador. In 1994, he became Ecuador’s first National Secretary of Indigenous Affairs. He currently serves as the Senior Advisor for Indigenous Peoples for the World Bank, where his primary job is to create a constructive dialogue with Indigenous Peoples worldwide to achieve deeper understanding and to work together toward sustainable development. Prior to that, Luis Felipe served as Executive Director of the Amazon Conservation Association, leading the organization with special focus on the Peruvian and Bolivian Amazon regions. He also served as the Regional Director for Rainforest Alliance, first in Central America and Mexico and later in Ecuador and the Andean Amazon Region.
NATHAN DOOLEY - Board Treasurer
Nathan Dooley joined the RP board in February 2017. He has worked for over 20 years for Baker & McKenzie, a major international law firm, where he is currently Director of Practice Operations. In his work, he has had extensive exposure to business law, finance and corporate governance.
Nathan grew up in southern Brazil, where he got to know the Mbyá Guarani, an indigenous group with whom his parents worked. Although he now lives in the United States, he retains a passion for native peoples and the economically disadvantaged. From 2003 to 2008, he served as a director of LitProjects Inc., a non-profit corporation that supported indigenous publications and literacy.
JOEL KENTY - Board Secretary & Chief Governance Officer
Joel Kenty is our Secretary and Chief Governance Officer. Born and raised in Northern Ontario, Canada, he developed a lifelong love for hiking, camping and just enjoying the outdoors. Joel looks for every opportunity to get out in nature and has a tremendous interest in preserving the earth’s natural resources for generations to come.
Joel brings a wealth of business experience to the board gained during his long and successful career in finance. He is now a partner in the central Texas firm of Green Knight Metal Roofing.
ROSS MELBOURNE - Board Member
Ross Melbourne is a life-long innovator, entrepreneur and patent holder. He has lived and worked in the US for 30 years, but grew up in England. He exhibited an early passion for science, playing with a chemistry set as a child, avidly following science news, and eventually becoming an enterprise software entrepreneur. Ross and his wife Lois co-founded a successful software company in the human resources industry, which they eventually sold to focus on philanthropic causes, including rainforest conservation.
Ross’ early recognition of man-made climate change fostered an interest in renewable energy technologies, and led to investments in solar panels and electric cars. He and Lois designed and built one of the most energy efficient homes in Texas. Ross believes technology can significantly reduce the amount of planet-warming gases produced by humanity, but he knows adopting renewable energy technology alone will not solve our problems. Ross joined Rainforest Partnership because he believes that preserving our planet’s rainforests also plays a critical role in addressing man-made climate change.
Board of Advisors
JOHN DOGGETT - Advisor
John Doggett served as Board Chair for Rainforest Partnership from 2011 – 2014, where he used his expertise in research and teaching and his interests in international entrepreneurship, global competition and sustainability to guide RP.
John is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Management at the University of Texas. He received his B.A. from Claremont Men’s College, his J.D. from Yale Law School and his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Since 1999, John has spent part of each summer and winter teaching courses on entrepreneurship and global competition in Austria, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. Since the spring of 2003, he has led MBA students on observation tours to China and India.
HUGH FORREST - Advisor
Hugh Forrest is our most recent addition to the Rainforest Partnership Team. Hugh serves as Chief Programming Officer for South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual Spring festival in Austin that brings together more than 50,000 industry creatives from across the US and around the world. SXSW inspires these creative minds through nine days of panels, presentations, brainstorming, networking, deal-making, socializing, creating, innovating, and fun.
Hugh was named “Austinite of the Year” in 2012 by the Austin Chamber of Commerce (along with fellow SXSW Directors Roland Swenson, Louis Black and Nick Barbaro). In 2014, Hugh and these other SXSW Directors were named Austin Entrepreneurs of the Year by Ernst & Young.
In addition to his work at SXSW, Hugh previously served on the National Advisory Board for the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Austin Habitat for Humanity and as a trustee for the Austin Awesome Foundation. Before joining SXSW in 1989, he founded a small alternative publication called The Austin Challenger and wrote for several other local newspapers and publications. Hugh majored in English at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
KARLA JOHANNING - Advisor
Karla Johanning, a native of Costa Rica, is the CEO and founder of KJ Scientific LLC, an environmental chemical testing company located at the Texas Life Sciences Collaboration Center in Georgetown, TX. Her company tests chemicals used in pesticides, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, consumer goods, and personal care products that have the potential to affect human or environmental health. Under new regulations in the European Union, these regulations affect US and global companies that have or will do business in Europe.
Karla’s passion and experience focus on environmental biology, in particular eco-toxicology. She is an active member of the Human and Environmental Safety Institute, Washington DC, the Bioaccumulation Sub-committee and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC).
Karla worked for several years at Life Technologies and CellzDirect as a Project Manager/Study Director responsible for overseeing drug metabolism studies and building and leading the ecotoxicology unit. Prior to that, she worked as a Sr. Research Scientist in the Environmental Endocrinology Lab at the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane in the field of endocrine disruption.
Karla holds a B.S. degree in Zoology and Marine Biology from the University of Costa Rica in her native country. She later earned an M.Sc. in Fisheries and Aquaculture and a Ph.D. in Zoology/Comparative Endocrinology from the University of Rhode Island. She did post-doctoral research at the Louisiana State University Medical Center (Dept. of Biochemistry) and at Tulane University Cancer Center.
SERGIO A. LIRA - Advisor
Sergio A. Lira (Alejandro) serves as advisor, translator, connector and occasionally gentle mediator in RP’s partner community. Alejandro is a lawyer, artist, and art collector who studied both fine arts and law at Cornell University before building a career as a Cultural Manager. His long talks with the scholar Carl Sagan introduced him to the concept of ‘healing the world,’ which inspired him to do ecosystem restoration and work with neglected communities.
At a young age, as part of the ‘Libertad’ movement led by Nobel laureate Mario Vargas-Llosa, Alejandro was appointed Editor of the International News Bulletin. For decades he turned his personal art-studio into the project ‘Estudio 235,’ providing artistic opportunities to Peruvian and international artists and allowing him to be a promoter of culture and the arts. Alejandro splits his time between Lima and his newest project, Lyria, in Lamas, San Martin, where his love for art and culture meets his interest in ecosystem restoration and sustainability.
GURPREET SINGH RAI - Advisor
Gurpreet Singh Rai, known affectionately as Gurps, supports RP with strategic advice and introductions. He headed the Carbon Market, where he created history in 2011 by becoming the first person to successfully facilitate a commodity trade using a virtual currency. He was also part of an international carbon offset agreement with sportswear giant Nike, WinRock, and the American Carbon Registry. Gurps holds a number of positions on the management boards of diverse companies around the world. He is a partner in the social network Hub Culture and in Ven, the world’s largest centralized crypto currency. He is also involved with U.S.-based sports fashion brand Future Legend.
Gurps is Chairman of the Board of SDKA International and also sits on the company’s environmental committee, which internally regulates the environmental impact of the company’s business practices worldwide. A keen philanthropist, he set up SDKA International’s foundation, Sustenvi. to deploy SDKA brand profits to help underprivileged communities around the world. In 2014, Sustenvi helped a United Nations NGO, United Sikhs, build a drug rehabilitation clinic in Punjab, India.
BOB WARNEKE - Advisor
Bob Warneke is a founding board member who re-joined the RP board from 2015-2018, and now serves as an advisor. A Texas lawyer who has been involved in habitat conservation issues for over 30 years, he is now retired and devotes much of his time to protecting habitat, with a focus on sustaining bird populations.
From 2004 to 2013, Bob served on the Board of Directors of the American Birding Association. For over a decade, he has served as President of the Board of the Malcolm C. Damuth Foundation, a private philanthropy focused on the conservation of wild lands.
He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Texas Conservation Alliance, a statewide conservation organization that advocates primarily for East Texas forests and rivers. He is also an adviser to the Tropical Forest Forever Fund, which was established to help protect tropical forests and is administered by the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory.
LEAH BARCLAY - Rainforest Listening
Dr. Leah Barclay joined the RP board in 2015. She created Rainforest Listening, the augmented sound reality project made in partnership with RP. Leah is an Australian interdisciplinary artist, creative producer, composer, and researcher, who specializes in electroacoustic music, sound art, and acoustic ecology. She has received critical acclaim for her immersive performances, installations, and large-scale community projects that explore volatile environments ranging from the central Amazon Rainforest to the floor of the Australian ocean.
Leah’s work has been commissioned, performed, and exhibited to wide acclaim across the globe. Her dynamic career includes designing education programs for UNESCO, directing interdisciplinary research projects for universities across Australia and the US, and facilitating partnerships between communities, NGOs, and government to explore creative approaches to climate action. Leah is currently an artist in residence at the Australian Rivers Institute, the president of the Australian Forum for Acoustic Ecology, and the founder and artistic director of Biosphere Soundscapes, a large-scale interdisciplinary project exploring the changing soundscapes of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves across the world.
MIKE CANZONERI - Digital Consultant
When he was just a child watching nature documentaries on public television in Chicago, Mike knew that someday he would live in the tropical American rain forest. Now living in Costa Rica, he owns and protects several hundred acres of coastal rain forest there. He is focused on wildlife conservation, with a special interest in jaguars and other wild cats, and has a desire to expand his rain forest properties to help create biological corridors.
A software engineer by trade, when Mike is not crashing through the Costa Rican rain forest, he’s busy running the custom technology services company he co-founded in 2010. Mike became connected with Rainforest Partnership shortly after its inception and has served as a technology advisor, working mainly with the web development team.
EILEEN KELLER - Social Physicist
Eileen is recognized as one of the world’s foremost media authorities on advertising. She recently worked as Cabletron’s Marketing Director for one of their spin-off companies, where she was responsible for coordinating the marketing efforts for 70 countries out of the London headquarters. She started her career at McCann Erickson in Dallas, buying time for Coca-Cola USA, before going on to New York and then back to Austin. She has been involved with over 2,500 clients in her career, from presidential candidates to international placement for Dell and AMD. Eileen authored a textbook on media and has been teaching her craft for over 20 years.
Eileen currently serves as a member of the Media Managers Advisory Committee for BPA Worldwide, and has been named a member of America’s Professional Who’s Who, a past-president of the Austin Advertising Federation, recipient of the Silver Service Award for her Public Service activity, and was named Educator of the Year in 2004. She blogs at ideality.com.
JOEP MEIJER - Climate Change Consultant
Joep Meijer is a native of the Netherlands who has lived in Austin, Texas since 2006. He serves as the Rainforest Partnership Climate Change consultant, working with ground teams to connect RP’s activities to global impact and with campaigns that call for action in the global community.
Joep is a trained chemist and life cycle assessment expert, which enables him to be a system thinker and to put numbers to our activities from the life cycle perspective. He met his Texan wife, Courtney, in London, and after a stay in Europe of five years decided to relocate to Austin.
Climate change is Joep’s passion. He knows that if enough people take action, we can make a difference. He founded Climate Buddies in Austin and was the initiator and co-creator of the Austin Community Climate Plan that established the goal of having no climate impact by 2050 for the city and 2030 for our utilities. Joep serves as a team member and regional advisor of 2020 or Bust, a global organization aiming to end the climate crisis through individual action. His personal carbon footprint is minus 4000 metric tons, as opposed to a global average of around 5 metric tons.
DEBORAH TOMPKINS - Project Consultant
Deb Tompkins is the founder of Sage Point, a consulting firm that specializes in strategic marketing, communications and training for organizations in the non-profit and development sector. In her 25-year career, she has spent extensive time in southern Africa, southeast Asia, and Latin America working with non-governmental organizations, community-based groups and women’s cooperatives to build entrepreneurship skills. She believes investing in the education, support and livelihoods of women is the key to promoting sustainable development. For Rainforest Partnership, she is working on communications projects as well as with the project teams at RP’s headquarters and within programs, and is working directly with the Sani Isla community to provide targeted training for the staff of Sani Lodge and for the Sani Warmi women’s project.
ROBERT H. KAESER - Strategic Adviser
Robert serves as a strategic advisor to Rainforest Partnership, advising and representing RP in Germany while working to identify and connect to potential strategic partners in German-speaking countries across Europe. Robert specializes in policy, strategic advising, advocacy on sustainable development, clean energy, global climate change for non-profit organizations, trade associations, and public funding.
Robert’s experience roots from seven years with helping strengthen the structuralize local NGOs in Ecuador with German cooperation GIZ. Born as a son of German parents in Ecuador, he’s combined both cultural backgrounds and speaks both languages fluently. Currently, he is setting up a volunteering program regarding the social and ecological segment in the Amazon basin of Ecuador for German-speaking students and teachers. As an economist, he’s also invested in solar photovoltaic panels within a second life cycle in Colombia and Ecuador as an alternative for the local industry.
Volunteers + Interns
CHANTELLE BARRETTO – Research
RICHARD BURGER – Films for the Forest
FRANCISCO GARCIA – Films for the Forest
CAMILLE CARTER – WRD Coordinator
COLE FIELDS – Event Support
JENNIFER JIN – Event Coordination and Outreach
ANTHONY ORTIZ – Videographer
LESLIE LINDSEY – Event Coordinator
NATE LEVY – Social Media
PHILIP RUSSELL – Translation
MAX CIDON – Graphic Design
MARIANNA GRENADIER – Graphic Design
REBECCAH HOFFMANN – Youth Education Coordinator
BRUCE SHARRAR – IT
JANELLE SYLVESTER – Projects
YARITZA TORRES – Projects
KASSANDRA BARRERA – Projects
TIFFANY WANG – Projects
BRI SPEAR – Projects