FOUNDER & DIRECTOR WENDEE NICOLE:
Raging Inexorable Thunder-Lizard Evangelist for Change*
After earning her M.S. in Wildlife Ecology from Texas A&M University in 1995, Wendee became a freelance journalist. For two decades, she traveled the globe to report on science, health, and environmental justice issues, from the Himalayan foothills of Nepal in search of the endangered red panda to the Peruvian Amazon to report on community-based conservation with the Yine Amerindians. Her work has been published in magazines such as National Wildlife, Nature, Discover, Scientific American, and Environmental Health Perspectives, as well as on Discovery Channel and Animal Planet Online.
In 2014, Wendee received the first $20,000 grant from Mongabay’s Special Reporting Initiative, awarded for her proposal, “Power to the people” which proposed to address how human livelihoods and forest conservation could coexist, based on Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom's groundbreaking theories. The grant brought her to Southwest Uganda where she tracked her favorite animal, mountain gorillas, in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and visited Batwa ("Twa") pygmies in their current homes. Wendee returned to the US but soon sold her home in Texas and, in September 2014, moved to Buhoma village to start RSF, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Wendee serves as Director on the ground, inspiring change among the Batwa of Kalehe, and other local projects with the Bakiga tribe members. She also serves as President of an outstanding Board of Directors that includes American and Ugandan professionals with broad relevant experience.
* Hat tip to the first Raging Inexorable Thunder-Lizard Evangelist for Change, Brian Yeoman, who I know from Houston Advanced Research Center a decade ago, and who inspired me to bring passion to whatever I do!
RSF BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Elise Hendrix (Vice President, Chair) continued pursuing a flourishing career as a makeup artist in the entertainment industry while attending college. In 2003, Elise founded the Houston Association of Entertainment Professionals, a nonprofit organization of accredited behind-the-camera industry professionals. This led into her founding of another group, the Greater Houston Global Management Group, in 2008, dedicated to transforming the Astrodome into a major production studio. She collaborated and networked with Houston governmental and business leaders, and although it was ultimately shelved due to lack of support by local government, she gained a wealth of management, networking, and leadership experience during this process. Elise has volunteered at several Houston RSF events and now serves as Chair and Vice President. She has known founder Wendee Nicole for two decades; they first met when Elise was a student in Wendee’s biology course at Lonestar College.
Rene Francis (Secretary 2021, Member 2018-present) is the former manager of a quality assurance unit in Ericsson, the large Swedish supplier of communication systems infrastructure for the global market. He was a principal at the Stockholm Challenge Award, a global arena for ICT (information and communications technology) projects. After 2006, he specialized in communications management of complex multi-cultural marketing and communications projects and worked on marketing and communications process implementation. More recently, Francis has become involved in politics in his local community, Åsbro, near Stockholm. He is active within the Moderate Party, serving briefly as Sweden's interim Minister of Labor. He supports Rugando Parents Primary School in Uganda and has been involved with Uganda’s Rotary Club for special local projects. Since 2017, Francis has served as the CEO of Focused Sun LLC. Unique Microgrid CSP solution.
Wendee Nicole (President 2014-present) pursued a two-decade-long career in communications, environmental journalism and photography before starting RSF, and which she is still involved in. Wendee previously founded and directed the nonprofit San Jacinto Conservation Coalition in Houston, Texas from 2000-2010, and earned degrees in Ecology (M.A., Ph.D. candidacy at Rice University, U.S. National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship; M.S., B.S. Magna Cum Laude 1993, Texas A&M). Baptized Episcopalian, she was a long-time member of a Lutheran church and is a member of the non-denominational Woodlands Church in The Woodlands, Texas. The Woodlands Church sells RSF baskets in their WC Trading Co. store. Faith guides her work promoting social justice for the Batwa tribe.
Ben Ssenkeera (Member 2019-present) is a Senior Veterinary Officer working with the Uganda Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. Currently he is pursuing his Msc. in Veterinary Preventive Medicine at Makerere University. He attained an Advanced Diploma in Sustainable Agriculture from Kfar Silver Agriculture Training Centre, Israel. In his undergraduate training, he researched human-wildlife conflicts in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, particularly with gorillas. Ben co-founded Redemption Song Foundation along with Wendee Nicole in 2014 and worked with the organization before joining the board.
Wilson Bamwerinde (Member 2018-present) is the former Trust Administrator for Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust (BMCT), managing the Trust resources for the conservation of Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Park mountain gorillas, to increase tourism potential, and to improve livelihoods and income alternatives for communities around the two national parks. Previously, he served as a professor at Kabale University and worked for ten years as National Project Manager for United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), overseeing a Transboundary Agroecosystem Management for between Uganda and Tanzania, facilitating sustainable management of natural resources, integrated ecosystem management as the means to integrate issues of land degradation, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, climate change and other environmental concerns, as well as agricultural productivity, food security and poverty alleviation with communities around river Kagera and national parks of Lake Mburo, Akagera and game reserves in Tanzania.
Sarah Weber (Member 2021-present) is a certified wildlife biologist and experienced team leader with a demonstrated history of working in the environmental consulting/engineering/land surveying industry. Sarah has a background in research focused on wildlife ecology, project management, and regulatory compliance. She has worked on various projects related to land and wildlife management, natural resource surveys, habitat modeling and conservation projects. Sarah has a passion for cooperative initiates bringing together different entities (public and private) toward responsible land development, land stewardship and inter-agency planning. Sarah, her family and her company have sponsored RSF for several years. Sarah has brought together communities and schools to help support RSF. Sarah has a 9-year-old daughter, who sponsors Beckham at RSF. Interests include: birding, kayaking, camping, fishing, hiking, cartography, traveling and hanging out with her family.
Farrah Leone (Member 2021-present) is an avid environmental conservationist who believes the interests of the environment can coexist with human progress. Leone holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies with a minor in Writing & Communications and a M.A. in Marine Conservation and Policy. She has worked several seasons as a field biologist under the USA National Park Service, working with all types of shoreline wildlife and habitat. She has volunteered for RSF for several years in various capacities, including working on our social media accounts, writing blog posts, and crafting email newsletters, among other things.
Emeritus Board Members
Steven W. Squyres (VP & Chairman of the Board 2014-2019, Founding Member 2014-2021) was the James A. Weeks Professor of physical sciences at Cornell University. He was the principal investigator for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover project, and chairman of the U.S. NASA Advisory Council. In 1999 he helped organize the first international space science conference to be held in Africa, in Libreville, Gabon, and he has traveled extensively on all seven continents, with a particular interest in Africa.
Miranda C. Spencer (Secretary 2016-2018, Founding Member 2014-2021) is an American journalist and editor who has run her own consulting company, Red Panda Communications, for more than 10 years. Her work has been published in many national outlets including Nuclear Times, Extra!, Biography, E: The Environmental Magazine, and The Daily Climate. She has also edited or helped develop scores of books for bestselling authors, including Arianna Huffington and Gene Stone. Miranda also has professional and volunteer experience working in communications with organizations including the Open Space Institute, Environmental Grantmakers Association, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and others.