Strengthening Communities and Protecting Forests Amidst a Global Crisis
2020 Annual Report
Decades of Institutional Strengthening, Realized
The year 2020 crystallized the importance of our mission: not only as a forest protection organization, but also as a human rights organization. From the moment COVID-19 hit Latin America, Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) mobilized to implement short- and long-term interventions to address the changing needs of the most vulnerable communities. We leveraged existing relationships and tools, while also seeking new collaborations and investments from governments, foundations, other non-profits, and on-the-ground partners.
We have long favored a partnership model that strengthens indigenous peoples’ governance systems at all levels. We saw how effective this was amidst delayed response times for information and relief from the state. Early on in the pandemic, we worked with indigenous partners to disperse information about the virus; provide medicines, protective equipment and food; and campaign for funds and supplies. We also provided financial and technical support for communities looking to establish new income generating activities.
The year 2020 tested—and proved—decades of investment in relationship building. Even as international travel ground to a halt, our regional partners were activated, coordinated and effective at protecting their communities and their lands. We saw how critical our efforts are to strengthening local communities and regional institutions—work made possible thanks to the commitment of supporters like you.
The mission of Rainforest Foundation US is to support indigenous and traditional peoples of the world’s rainforests in their efforts to protect the environment, and to fulfill their rights by assisting them in:
Securing and controlling the natural resources necessary for their long term well-being and managing these resources in ways which do not harm their environment, violate their culture, or compromise their future; and
Developing the means to protect their individual and collective rights and to obtain, shape, and control basic services from the state.
A Message From Our Executive Director
A few short weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic ground the world to a halt, I spent time in Buen Jardin de Callaru in the Peruvian Amazon. This village stopped deforestation in its tracks in just one year by using our Rainforest Alert method of combining satellite-based territorial monitoring with foot patrols. They are a model for thousands of communities across the Amazon.
During my visit, I saw the people of Buen Jardin come together to restore what had been destroyed by illegal loggers and coca growers. Dozens of villagers planted hundreds of seedlings. The pandemic hit shortly after their reforestation efforts began and scores of villagers died. But despite devastating losses and economic hardship, people continued to check on their seedlings. Even when faced with the most difficult odds, the work is continuing and new initiatives are taking root. Our indigenous partners are as resilient as the forests they care for.
I saw the same resilience in our RFUS team who went above and beyond to get resources to the indigenous communities who needed them. They adapted to different ways of working, faced new professional stressors, and juggled challenging circumstances in their personal lives. I’d like to thank them for their unwavering commitment to our mission.
In these pages, you will read stories of hope, resilience, and strength. You will learn about the people behind the work—our team members, our partners, and our supporters. We would not be able to help communities protect their rights, forests, and livelihoods without them, and without you. We are deeply grateful to each and every one of you.
Suzanne Pelletier Executive Director Rainforest Foundation US
Helping our partners meet the demands of a global pandemic
Indigenous communities have been especially vulnerable to COVID-19. The virus has wreaked havoc on rural communities, where people already suffer from chronic health conditions that go untreated due to a lack of money and a lack of medical infrastructure. This, combined with indigenous peoples’ communal lifestyles, has resulted in outbreaks that have been pervasive and difficult to contain. Indigenous elders—key to a community’s social fabric and holders of vast knowledge about rainforest land and life—are especially at risk.
Since early 2020, we have been working around the clock to support our partners in providing communities with assistance. We’re proud of the indigenous organizations we partner with in Peru, Brazil, Guyana, and Panama, who have quickly adapted to the unique demands that the global pandemic created.
For communities without internet or smartphones, being able to identify COVID-19 symptoms, knowing how to curb its spread, and receiving information about the vaccine is vital. At the beginning of the pandemic, we collaborated with our partners in Central and South America to design and distribute print and digital materials for COVID-19 prevention in their communities and in their languages. Additionally, we helped coordinate the distribution of emergency food staples, medicine, and personal protective equipment. As quarantine halted global trade and travel, we developed sustainable revenue-generating activities for these villages, such as reforestation with trees whose fruit sells at a high profit margin on the market. We also produced a star-studded livestream benefit, SOS Rainforest LIVE, which raised over $300,000 for indigenous communities across the world’s tropical belt.
Unprecedented times call for an unprecedented response, which is why we co-sponsored the Amazon Emergency Fund (AEF), a groundbreaking partnership with more than 30 non-governmental and indigenous organizations, represented by the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA). Together, along with your generous support, we raised nearly $3 million dollars in emergency grants for over 150 indigenous communities across nine Amazon countries and territories. These funds provided food and medical supplies, urgent prevention and care, emergency communications and evacuation, protection and security for forest guardians, food sovereignty, and community resilience.
Additionally, we leveraged our network of hundreds of remote forest patrollers (sometimes referred to as “community monitors”) who, under normal circumstances, detect and stop illegal deforestation. These individuals adapted their skills and tools to capture critical health information in communities so that data managers in the regional indigenous peoples’ organization could keep state agencies abreast of new outbreaks.
RFUS is an organization that cares deeply about the health of communities who all too often don’t receive the government support they need. Throughout this past year—and for years to come—we are proud to be their partner.
Rainforest Foundation US got my attention because of its holistic approach to protecting rainforests by supporting indigenous communities.
— Viviana Briseño
Meet Our Development Operations Manager
Viviana Briseño Márquez has a personal commitment to our mission
2020 has been a busy year for Viviana Briseño Márquez. After joining RFUS six years ago, working initially as an intern before moving her way into administration and fundraising, she recently transitioned into her current position as Development Operations Manager. In this role, she spearheads RFUS’s fundraising procedures and ensures it is as effective and efficient as possible.
Born and raised in Mexico, Viviana was encouraged from a young age to support those who protect the culture and rights of her country’s indigenous peoples. This, in addition to her early interest in nature and conservation, led her to RFUS.
“Rainforest Foundation US got my attention because of its holistic approach to protecting rainforests by supporting indigenous communities,” she says. “At that time, there were few organizations that combined environmental protection with human rights.”
Over the years, Viviana has witnessed how committed every team member is to the organization’s mission, and the profound trust that exists between RFUS, our partners, and other organizations. This was especially apparent, she says, in the swift way RFUS reacted to the pandemic, utilizing the relationships the organization had built over decades to support its partners in new ways, while still prioritizing the well-being of its people.
As she moves into her second year as Development Operations Manager, Viviana is excited to see the different programs RFUS has been testing in the last few years scaled up and expanded, so that more communities can benefit. And she always looks forward to what she considers one of the most rewarding parts of her job—getting notes from donors describing why RFUS matters to them. Whether it’s drawings from children or letters from adults, “they always cheer me up and remind me why I love what I do.”
Community-Based Territorial Monitoring
Using technology to protect rainforests and fight climate change
Community-based territorial monitoring is at the heart of our work with our partners. By the end of 2020, RFUS and the Indigenous Peoples’ Organization of the Eastern Amazon (ORPIO) trained more than 100 indigenous forest patrollers—also called “community monitors”—in Rainforest Alert, a satellite-based territorial monitoring system that alerts them when their forests are being destroyed. Combining satellite imagery on smartphones with on-the-ground investigations, forest patrollers verify evidence to equip community leaders with the information they need to take action.
Despite the lockdowns imposed nationwide during the emergency, illegal invasions into indigenous peoples’ territories spiked in 2020 as environmental enforcement agents were redirected to support the national health emergency. Our forest patrollers were needed more than ever before.
While travel to many areas within South and Central America was restricted due to COVID-19, our partners in these areas expanded patrols of illegal activity in their territories, keeping deforestation at bay. By the end of the year, we assisted indigenous peoples in protecting more than 23,000 square miles (more than 6 million hectares) of territories in four countries—Peru, Guyana, Brazil, and Panama.
The forest patrol program is predicated on extensive scientific research, which shows that indigenous peoples are the most effective stewards of the rainforest, and that the continued health of those rainforests is crucial in the fight against climate change.
They believe in us; they consider that, as indigenous peoples, we are the protagonists of forest protection.
— Jorge Pérez Rubio
Working Together to Empower Indigenous Communities
Jorge Pérez Rubio leads the indigenous peoples of Loreto, Peru, to protect the forests
For over 30 years, Jorge Pérez Rubio has defended the Amazonian indigenous peoples of Peru. A Huitoto indigenous leader from Putumayo, Loreto, he has worked hand-in-hand with RFUS as President of the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the East (ORPIO) since 2017. To empower indigenous communities to protect forests, ORPIO and RFUS partnered to co-design the technology-based indigenous forest patrolling program, Rainforest Alert.
In 2020, Pérez’s work with RFUS included training indigenous peoples in the satellite-based territorial monitoring system, accompanying the community patrol when they were concerned for their safety, signing complaints about environmental crimes in indigenous peoples’ territories, and, during the pandemic, coordinating and managing the delivery of supplies to those most affected by COVID-19.
“For me and the indigenous movement, RFUS’s mission in Loreto is very important, since they want to protect the forests by including us in the process,” says Pérez. “They believe in us; they consider that, as indigenous peoples, we are the protagonists of forest protection.”
In Pérez’s experience, RFUS is the only organization delegating power and proffering valuable skills directly to regional indigenous-led organizations. In so doing, RFUS ensures that indigenous partners are better able to overcome the common challenges afflicting their communities. Additionally, the training RFUS provides strengthens the communities’ ability to monitor their territories and enables them to share what they’ve learned with others elsewhere. Pérez was particularly proud to see one indigenous Kichwa patroller travel to Indonesia to demonstrate the Rainforest Alert method.
When asked what he values most about RFUS, Pérez cites “Its great work, responsibility, and respect for indigenous peoples.” In the next year, he hopes RFUS can continue to train more and more indigenous forest patrollers in Loreto, particularly indigenous women.
A historic win for land rights in a challenging year
For more than 50 years, the Naso Tjër Di people of Panama have been fighting for legal recognition and security over their ancestral lands. In the 1980s, the dispute came to a head when the Panamanian government created La Amistad International Park (PILA) and the Palo Seco Protected Forest—both of which overlap the Naso peoples’ traditional territories—without consulting with the indigenous people living there. Despite significant international support from the World Bank, attempts in 2003 and 2005 to secure governmental recognition of their collective land (comarca) failed due to lack of political will.
Finally, in 2020, the Panama Supreme Court ruled in their favor, titling and recognizing more than 620 square miles (160,000+ hectares) of Naso Tjër Di land, roughly half the size of Rhode Island. Informed by years of experience securing land rights and settling disputes, RFUS provided strategic legal support for what became the largest land-titling win for Panama’s indigenous peoples in decades.
The ruling also advanced the incorporation of international human rights law into the Panamanian legal framework and set a precedent for the titling of indigenous peoples’ lands that overlap nationally protected areas, opening new opportunities for expanding recognition of indigenous peoples’ land rights in the country.
RFUS's experience in other countries—its ability to adapt, understand complex issues, and inject new ideas and spaces for interaction, like what’s been playing out on climate change on the international level—all of this adds great value to our work together.
— Jean La Rose
A National Indigenous Leader’s Reflection on Our Partnership
Jean La Rose underlines the value of Rainforest Foundation US’s long-term support
When Jean La Rose first began collaborating with RFUS, the internet still had a dial-up tone. “I believe it was 1994,” La Rose says. No doubt: A lot has happened since then.
Jean La Rose is a leader of the Amerindian Peoples’ Association (APA), the national indigenous peoples’ organization in Guyana. Over the years, RFUS and APA have partnered on everything from mapping and community-level capacity building to lobbying successfully for the reforms enshrined in the Amerindian Act of 2006.
Through it all, land rights have been one of APA’s priority issues. La Rose detailed how APA was able to carry out research activities and produce reports that delve into the land tenure situations of 5 of Guyana’s regions. These reports will significantly strengthen their advocacy work.
“The continuity and closeness of our working relationship with RFUS—not only providing funds, but working physically close to the project allowed us to achieve this landmark work,” she remarks.
“RFUS’s experience in other countries—its ability to adapt, understand complex issues, and inject new ideas and spaces for interaction, like what’s been playing out on climate change on the international level—all of this adds great value to our work together.”
A step forward in the Saweto community’s fight for justice
In 2014, the Saweto community in Peru was struck by the tragic assasination of four of their leaders at the hands of illegal loggers. Their families and community members sought nothing more than a proper investigation and prosecution of those responsible. In the years since, they have instead struggled against a lagging judicial system and faced harassment, in addition to other forms of intimidation.
To support the Saweto community in their fight for justice, RFUS has provided legal and advocacy assistance over the past six years. In 2020, collective efforts helped reach a milestone: The case was heard by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a prosecutorial hearing advanced after six postponements. The case continues and RFUS will stand by the community of Saweto community as they seek justice for their husbands, sons, brothers, and leaders brutally murdered for their courageous activism.
Garnering global support with “Miners Out, COVID Out!”
The mortality rate from COVID-19 for Brazil’s indigenous peoples is double the rate of the rest of the nation—a reality exemplified by the struggles of the Yanomami and Ye’kwana peoples of the Amazon. Historically, these populations have been afflicted by malaria and measles epidemics wrought upon them by invaders during gold rushes in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, roughly half of the Yanomami live in communities within three miles of illegal gold mining sites, exposing them to a surge in COVID-19.
Facing a risk of ethnocide, the Forum of Yanomami and Ye’kwana Leaders asked the Brazilian public and the global community to sign a petition to pressure Brazilian authorities to mobilize efforts for the complete and immediate removal of 20,000 illegal gold miners from their territory. Together with our partners, RFUS helped amplify their campaign, which managed to collect more than 400,000 signatures calling on authorities to evict the illegal invaders. The “Miners Out, Covid Out!” campaign received worldwide attention.
In a scenario where threats to the Amazon are increasingly sophisticated, RFUS is an organization that is open to innovate and find new models to defend forests and the rights of indigenous peoples.
— Wendy Pineda
Meet Our Peru Program Project Coordinator
Wendy Pineda brings information and technology to indigenous communities
Wendy Pineda has dedicated her professional life to partnering with indigenous peoples to protect their ancestral lands. When she joined RFUS in 2015, she dreamt of building a coalition that supports indigenous peoples in using their knowledge to conserve forests and fight climate change.
As a land management specialist, she develops tools and conducts trainings for indigenous community members on Geographical Information Systems, mapping, geographic and environmental engineering, and satellite remote sensing. In just a few years, she has seen the network of communities using territorial monitoring technology grow and adapt to meet the demands of any situation.
“RFUS works directly with indigenous peoples without intermediaries. This allows us to provide responses adapted to the needs of each of our partners,” says Pineda. “In a scenario where threats to the Amazon are increasingly sophisticated, RFUS is an organization that is open to innovate and find new models to defend forests and the rights of indigenous peoples.”
This ability to adapt and innovate was life-saving when the pandemic hit. In early 2020, Pineda assisted in transforming the indigenous forest patrol network into a system focused on humanitarian assistance. This, she says, was the biggest challenge of the year—repurposing forest monitoring technology to transfer information about COVID-19 and activating the network she helped build to bring medicine and food to communities that had been isolated by closures during the pandemic.
As a new year approaches, Pineda is looking forward to strategizing about how RFUS can continue to expand and “provide new solutions to improve forest control with a gender, social inclusion, and intercultural approach.”
A Message From Our Board Chair
This has been a difficult and unusual year by all measures, one that has introduced new challenges for people across the globe. In the face of this, however, Rainforest Foundation US has continued to build on our long-term mission of forest protection, planting seeds for the future even as we respond to meet the emergency needs of our indigenous partners during this pandemic. As we look ahead, I am excited to share some goals for 2021.
In the short-term, the immediate threat of COVID-19 in indigenous rainforest communities is far from over and we are committed to continue safeguarding those communities: That’s why we were a fiscal sponsor and key advisor to the Amazon Emergency Fund, which proved that an indigenous-led fund can bring critical relief to forest guardians. With a $2 million donation from the French Government this year, we plan to reach an even wider set of communities, and provide them with longer-term support.
After two years of preparation, we are excited to soon publish a landmark study which analyzes the efficacy of our community-based forest monitoring program. We anticipate the results will confirm what we have experienced and witnessed over the course of our 30 year history: that supporting indigenous peoples in titling and protecting their lands is a low-cost, high-return strategy to stop deforestation and combat climate change.
In addition, we will expand our Rainforest Alert territorial monitoring program in partnership with indigenous organizations in Panama, Peru, Guyana, and Brazil. This program is one of the most impactful and cost-effective ways to protect lands from encroachment. We estimate that the program can prevent nearly 4,000 square miles (roughly 1 million hectares) of deforestation over the coming decade.
On a personal note, my own commitment to forest protection has never been greater. Like every donor, I know that each dollar I give could go elsewhere, to different organizations with different needs. I focus on RFUS because I know it’s the best way to solve the most pressing issue of our generation.
And as Board Chairman, I commit to you that my consistent and primary focus is ensuring that your contribution has the greatest possible impact in the greatest possible way. The RFUS team is lean, focused, and highly productive; we are dedicated to our mission of saving the planet—saving our planet. Thanks to your help, we can do exactly that.
John Copeland Chair of the Board of Directors, Rainforest Foundation US Managing Partner, Wealth Partners Capital Group
Revenues & Expenses
Giving that builds resilient communities that protect forests to help fight the climate emergency
Your support has helped strengthen local indigenous communities and regional indigenous peoples’ organizations in their ability to protect the forests. Over this pandemic year in particular, you have contributed to building resilience in communities when they were most vulnerable. We couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you!
Revenue and Support
Total Revenue and Support: $7,427,767
Total Expenses: $5,679,246
All financial figures past and present can be found on Rainforest Foundation US’s fiscal year 990 filings on our Financials & Transparency page.
Even though we strive to be as green as possible, our working lives cause pollution, and supporting RFUS helps us to set the balance.
— Tom Greenway
Appreciating the Earth through Charitable Giving
Tom Greenway’s company helps organizations that help the world
In the coming years, Tom Greenway hopes to see more companies like his support RFUS. Greenway, the Founder and Managing Director of 3dtotal, an educational resource platform for online artists, gives a portion of his company’s annual profits to RFUS.
“Donating to RFUS is a very efficient way to help the environment,” Greenway says. “Even though we strive to be as green as possible, our working lives cause pollution, and supporting RFUS helps us to set the balance.”
Greenway is dedicated to environmental sustainability in both his professional and personal life. Canopy Press, an imprint of 3dtotal’s small publisher 3dtotal Publishing, brings art and design books focused on sustainable living and the environment into the world. When he’s not working, Greenway practices green woodworking and stewards a share of woodland in the UK where he lives.
What does the RFUS’s mission mean to him? “Rainforests are the most wonderful and essential places on earth and we feel very lucky that organizations such as RFUS have been established to fight to protect them,” Greenway says. “A lot of good work results in each donation we make.”
By investing directly in indigenous communities, RFUS connects indigenous peoples with the tools, training, and resources to be effective advocates and protectors of the forests they call home. Our global, regional, and local partners are the key to realizing our mission. When you invest in us, you invest in them.
Partners in Brazil
Partners in Guyana
Partners in Panama
Partners in Peru
The Rainforest US mission to protect the rainforests and the planet's climate and the rights of indigenous peoples with a focus on sustainable development is sorely needed.
— Jeremy Shepherd
A World Traveler and CEO Supports the Rainforest
Jeremy Shepherd sells pearls and champions sustainable development
When Jeremy Shepherd thinks of RFUS, he thinks of his indigenous friends in South America who rely directly on the Amazon for their livelihoods.
“Their rights are being trampled upon and their forests are being destroyed,” he says. “The RFUS mission to protect the rainforests and the planet’s climate and the rights of indigenous peoples with a focus on sustainable development is sorely needed.”
Shepherd, the Founder and CEO of the world’s largest online pearl company, Pearl Paradise, has traveled the world: first as the son of a U.S. Army officer, then later as a flight attendant. He is fluent in Japanese, Spanish, and Micronesian, and has lived in Japan, Mexico, and the South Pacific.
It was Shepherd’s love of other cultures that inspired Pearl Paradise, as he began to import pearls during his travels to Asia. Over two decades, he has traveled to pearl-producing areas all over the world and formed relationships with people who are directly affected by deforestation.
That’s why he particularly values RFUS’s Rainforest Alert forest patrol program, which provides training and tools to indigenous organizations to monitor and secure their territories using cost-effective technology like smartphones and drones.
Shepherd hopes to see an expansion of Rainforest Alert in the next few years. “The rainforests are the lungs of the earth,” he says. “When they go, our civilization will likely follow.”
Support Our Work
Join us in creating a more sustainable future for generations to come
Rainforest Foundation US is tackling the major challenges of our day: deforestation, the climate crisis, and human rights violations. Your commitment moves us one step closer to creating a more sustainable and just future.
When you donate to RFUS, you support indigenous communities in Central and South America in their fight for their rights and for the nature we all depend on.
Your contribution makes the following possible:
Providing legal support to indigenous communities as they pursue rights to their lands
Training in state-of-the-art land management and surveillance to avoid illegal deforestation
Strengthening of administrative capacity in indigenous-led organizations, including accounting and project management
Please consider making a monthly contribution. Our monthly donors provide vital and reliable aid to our indigenous partners as they work to ensure that tropical forests can keep capturing and storing carbon while also producing fresh air and clean water for generations to come.
John Copeland Chair Managing Partner, Wealth Partners Capital Group, LLC
John is Managing Partner of Wealth Partners Capital Group, LLC, which provides capital and strategic support to Registered Investment Advisor firms. Formerly, John was President of AMG Wealth Partners, and served in leadership roles prior to that at Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Credit Suisse First Boston and Goldman, Sachs & Co. John holds Bachelors’ degrees in Economics and English Literature from Georgetown University, a Master’s in Management from the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School.
As a child of the ‘70s, John remembers celebrating the first Earth Day. He has been involved in various environmental causes for over 30 years. John has been a RFUS board member since 2009, and is particularly devoted to RFUS given the team’s efficiency and intense commitment.
Brett Odom Treasurer Retired Finance Executive
As Deputy Chief Compliance Officer for Partner Fund Management, L.P. from 2016 to 2019, Brett ensured the firm met national and international regulations. Formerly, he held leadership roles at Kingdon Capital Management, L.L.C., PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Brett is also a dedicated volunteer, having worked for several years at Animal Haven, where he prepared dogs for adoption. Now retired, he currently volunteers at Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, an NGO dedicated to rescuing disoriented sea turtle hatchlings in coordination with local and state authorities. He earned his Bachelor’s in Accounting from Millsaps College and uses his background in accounting and finance to serve as the Treasurer of Rainforest Foundation US. Brett is dedicated to environmental causes and ensuring that the indigenous populations of Central and South America are entitled to own and manage their own land.
S. Todd Crider, Esq. Vice Chair Partner, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP; Member Executive Committee (founding Chair), The Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice
As Head of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP’s Latin America Practice, Todd advises clients in international corporate finance transactions, mergers and acquisitions, and project finance. A leader in pro-bono practice, he is a member of the governing body and executive committee of the Cyrus R. Vance Center of International Justice, where he was founding chair. He also serves as the Vance Center representative to the boards of the Pro Bono Network of the Americas (Red Pro Bono de las Américas) and the Lawyers Council for Civil and Economic Rights of the Americas. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Howard College of Arts & Sciences at Samford University, the board of directors of the Council of the Americas and the board of directors of Equitable Origin. He has acted as counsel to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the context of the Awas Tingni case, an important precedent-setting case related to property rights of indigenous peoples under international law. Todd holds a Bachelor’s in International Relations from Samford University, a License d’histoire from Université de Paris IV Sorbonne, and a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School.
Todd came to issues related to indigenous peoples rights almost three decades ago. As a young lawyer, he represented the Awas Tingni community in Nicaragua in negotiations with the Nicaraguan government and a lumber company. The experience introduced him to the intersection of environmental concerns and human rights, which defines the work of Rainforest Foundation US. Todd has served on RFUS’s board since 2007. He firmly believes that supporting indigenous peoples to protect their rainforests is the most cost-effective solution to forest degradation, deforestation, and related climate change.
Robert Curran Freelance Photographer
Robert is a photographer, explorer, and environmental activist, born in Manhattan and raised in Peru. He has completed several expeditions to the Amazon over the last thirty years and is also a member of the NYC-based Explorers Club. His photography extends from work in advertising and fashion to personal work capturing people of different cultures in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America. His work has appeared in Vogue, Town and Country, Harper’s Bazaar, People, and George magazine. He has photographed celebrities such Pope Francis, John F Kennedy Jr, Shakira, Pitbull, Roy Jones Jr, and many others over the years. He also is an Ambassador for All Hands and Hearts, a volunteer organization that has built over 300 schools after natural disasters on five continents. Robert holds a Bachelor’s in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania.
Robert is one-eighth Native American (Inca). He grew up in Cuzco, Peru—home to a large indigenous population—and speaks Spanish and Portuguese. As a Rainforest Foundation US board member, Robert’s interests lie in protecting indigenous peoples’ cultures in the Andes and Amazon through advocacy and enabling the legal recognition of indigenous peoples’ lands.
Christian Lelong Director of Natural Resources, Kayrros
With more than 20 years of experience working in the natural resources, technology and financial service sectors, Christian leads the development of environmental services based on satellite imagery and advanced analytics at Kayrros. Formerly, he played leadership roles at Goldman Sachs and BHP. Christian started his career as a software engineer and holds a Master’s of Business Administration from INSEAD.
Christian supports the RFUS team by analyzing the risks presented by extractive industries, and finding ways in which indigenous communities can use new technologies to protect their lands and livelihoods. Christian’s life-long devotion to environment issues and interest in supporting indigenous peoples stem from his childhood in Mexico.
Jenny Springer Director of the Global Program on Governance and Rights, IUCN
Jenny Springer is an anthropologist with over 20 years of experience working on indigenous peoples’ and community land rights, community-based natural resource management, and social dimensions of conservation. She joined the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Director of the Global Programme on Governance and Rights in October 2018. From 2015 to 2018, Jenny served as Chair of the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy’s Theme on Governance, Equity and Rights, where she played a lead role in the development of the IUCN Natural Resource Governance Framework. Formerly, she held leadership roles with Rights and Resources Initiative and World Wildlife Fund US, where she co-founded the Conservation Initiative on Human Rights. She holds a Bachelor’s in Social Studies from Harvard and conducted graduate work in Socio-Cultural Anthropology at the University of Chicago.
Becky Yang Founder, Lin Lane; Partner, The Fund
Becky is the founder of Lin Lane, an advisory and investment firm focused on early stage companies. She is also currently working as Partner at The Fund, a platform of founders and operators investing in the next generation of local entrepreneurs. Before joining The Fund, she worked in global expansion and business development at WeWork, and later served as the Global Director of Growth and Community at Summit. She holds a Bachelor’s from Vanderbilt University and a Master’s in Business Administration from Columbia University.
Becky brings with her over a decade of public and private sector partnerships and fundraising work, including at the Clinton Foundation and Avantage Ventures, which focuses on impact investing. She is committed to aligning these skills with her deep interests in climate change and biodiversity to advance Rainforest Foundation US’s mission.
Steven Kemler Principal & Managing Director, Stone Arch Group
Steve is an entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. He is the Principal of the Stone Arch Group, a private investment firm that funds single and multi-family real estate opportunities and growth stage companies. Steve and Stone Arch also support organizations committed to climate change mitigation, rainforest preservation, education, children’s health, and the arts. Between 2005 and 2016, he was the Co-Founder and CEO of Group of Health Care Training Companies, which built and operated five healthcare training organizations. Formerly, he served as the Managing Director of Fastwired, and as the CEO and Owner of Human-i-Tees. Steve holds a Bachelor’s in Economics from Trinity College-Hartford and a Certificate in Organizational Design for Digital Transformation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management.
In addition to running various businesses, Steve has been involved in environmental advocacy and forest preservation for over twenty years. He is committed to utilizing this experience in helping Rainforest Foundation US effectively fulfill its mission.
The Mesoamerican Alliance of People and Forests is a Central American regional organization dedicated to promoting the rights of forest-dwelling indigenous peoples and local communities. It is made up of national organizations who control significant areas of forests in the region. RFUS has worked with AMPB over the years to train community-based territorial monitors and mappers as well as to support regional and international advocacy. AMPB is also a member of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities. RFUS is currently supporting AMPB’s emergency fundraising efforts around COVID-19 and forest fires.
The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Indonesian Archipelago is the largest indigenous peoples’ organization in the world, with millions of members in thousands of communities across Indonesia’s islands. AMAN has long been at the forefront of the struggle for indigenous peoples’ rights in Indonesia, and a leader in carrying the indigenous peoples’ rights agenda to the international level, including at the UNFCCC over the past decade. AMAN is also a leading member of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities. RFUS is currently supporting AMAN’s emergency fundraising efforts around COVID-19 and forest fires.
The Coalition of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil was founded in 2005 and has since become the country’s largest indigenous peoples’ federation, representing all of Rainforest Foundation US’s local and regional partners, like the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira, or COIAB). APIB is also a leading member of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities. RFUS is currently supporting APIB’s emergency fundraising efforts around COVID-19 and forest fires.
The Coordination of Indigenous Peoples Organizations of the Amazon Basin is the largest representative organization of its kind in the region. It is made up of elected national indigenous peoples’ federations in all nine Amazon nations. In COICA’s long history, they have been on the frontline of the struggle to advance the respect for indigenous peoples’ rights and territorial security. RFUS has worked with COICA for many years, in specific collaborations with national federations such as AIDESEP in Peru and APA in Guyana, as well as with regional initiatives such as the Amazon Emergency Fund launched in 2020 to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. COICA is also a leading member of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities.
Indigenous Council of Roraima is the main representative indigenous organization in the northern Brazilian Amazon state of Roraima. RFUS has partnered with CIR for some 20 years providing legal, financial, and strategic support for the demarcation of Raposa Serra do Sol, and ongoing human rights advocacy and initiatives.
Hutukara Yanomami Association was established in 2004 to represent the Yanomami people of the northern Brazilian states of Roraima and Amazonas. RFUS worked closely with Hutukara in its early days, providing capacity strengthening for the organization as it spread its wings, as well as supporting a younger generation of leaders. We have also been active in a number of Yanomami-led campaigns and initiatives over the years.
Coalition of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil is the umbrella organization representing all indigenous peoples of Brazil. Since 2005, APIB has led indigenous peoples’ resistance to policies and programs that threaten rights and lands. RFUS partners with APIB on global advocacy, among other work, as part of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities.
Amerindian Peoples Association is the leading indigenous organization in Guyana. APA has active members in over 60 indigenous villages and regional representatives across Guyana, as well as a national secretariat in Georgetown. RFUS partners with APA in their efforts to advocate for land rights and expanded titling, national policy change, and to strengthen local and regional indigenous governance institutions.
South Rupununi District Council is the representative body of the elected Chiefs (“Toshaos”) of the 21 Wapichan communities in southern Guyana. RFUS supports SRDC to acquire title to the collective Wapichan area, protecting the headwaters of Guyana’s major rivers, addressing mining threats and securing the border with Brazil.
North Pakaraimas District Council is the representative body of the Patamona and Macushi indigenous peoples. The NPDC holds title to roughly 333,284 hectares of village land–26% of their ancestral lands. RFUS supports NPDC to map the lands outside village boundaries and to determine the best way to conserve these lands in the face of expanding mining operations and other threats.
Upper Mazaruni District Council is the representative body of the Akawaio indigenous people. Communities in the Upper Mazaruni are engaged in a legal case to secure collective title for the full extent of their territory at Guyana’s High Court since 1998, while the government continues to issue mining rights to outside miners over untitled traditional lands subject to the case, without their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). RFUS has assisted the UMDC in monitoring and analysis of the extent of mining operations in the region.
MDC – Moruca District Council
Moruca District Council is the representative body of eight Lokono villages in a coastal lowland environment with extensive forest resources, mangroves and coastal wetlands. The eight titled villages cover roughly 31% of the traditional lands of the MDC. RFUS and APA have been supporting institutional strengthening efforts, including developing rules of procedure for Village Councils and guidelines for implementing free, prior, informed consent.
The General Congress of the Embera y Wounaan Collective Lands of Panama is the representative body for the Embera and some of the Wounaan communities outside of the Embera Wounaan Comarca, and has been on the forefront of the struggle for land rights for many years.
National Congress of the Wounaan People is the representative body of the Wounaan people inside and outside of the Comarca, with elected leaders who fight for the Wounaan at the national level. The CNPW has an associated Wounaan Foundation which is the project management arm of the Congress.
National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama is the national umbrella representative organization of Panama’s indigenous peoples’ organizations founded in 1999 to lead the fight for indigenous land rights, respect for indigenous culture and other priorities.
Congreso General Ancestral Tule de Tagarkunyala
Congreso General Ancestral Tule de Tagarkunyala represents the Guna people in the communities of Paya and Pucuru, and the large territory considered the ancestral homeland of the Guna people, including the sacred mountain of Tagarkunyal. The Tagarkunyal territory is completely inside the Darien National Park, making them a key ally for the sustainable management of Central America’s largest protected area.
Geo Indigena is a newly formed civil association led by indigenous youth with a focus on providing training and capacity building for mapping, monitoring, and community natural resource management with indigenous traditional governance structures and the indigenous movement regionally. RFUS has been supporting the development and organizational launch of GeoIndigena for the past few years. GeoIndigena received legal recognition in mid-2020, and will be a key partner for RFUS in coming years.
Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Eastern Amazon (Organización Regional de los Pueblos Indígenas del Oriente, or ORPIO) is the indigenous peoples’ representative organization in the Amazonian department Loreto, Peru, representing indigenous peoples and 430 communities. ORPIO engages in protecting their territories, promoting human development, and defending their rights and indigenous governance.
The Regional Organization Aidesep Ucayali (Organización Regional Aidesep Ucayali, or ORAU) represents 15 indigenous peoples, 13 subnational federations. ORAU engages in promoting the economic, social, political and cultural development of the indigenous peoples that it represents.
Executor of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve Administration Contract (Ejecutor del Contrato de Administración de la Reserva Comunal Amarakaeri, or ECA-RCA) ECA-RCA represents 10 indigenous communities along the buffer one of the of the world’s most biodiverse protected areas. ECA co-manages the communal reserve with the National Protected Areas Service of Peru (SERNANP) ensuring the conservation of biological diversity and the benefit for its associates.
The indigenous Asheninka community of Saweto, located in eastern Ucayali, suffered from the massacre of their leaders by illegal loggers in 2014. RFUS leads the legal representation of Saweto, while also facilitating their land titling and security. The Justice for Saweto campaign aims to ensure the Saweto issue remains visible and to help raise the necessary financial support to ensure the community and the widows remain safe. RFUS coordinates with multiple national and international governmental and non-governmental allies to support this effort.
Didier has been coordinating the USAID-funded B’atz project since joining Rainforest Foundation US in April 2022. He holds a Master’s in Applied Anthropology and a Bachelor’s in Geography. Before joining the organization, Didier worked for 12 years in Central and South America on issues of transparency, legality, governance, and managing stakeholders’ processes in the environmental sector. Prior to that he worked on similar issues in Central Africa. He speaks French, Spanish, and English, and is based in Guatemala.