PLATINUM2023

Rainforest Connection

Using acoustic tech to monitor and protect our natural world

Katy, TX   |  https://rfcx.org/

Mission

Rainforest Connection (RFCx) is a nonprofit tech start-up committed to applying the most effective and timely technology to protect our planet’s precious, ancient forests and wildlife. Our mission is to develop and leverage conservation technology to empower our partners to protect threatened rainforest from illegal logging and poaching and monitor for biodiversity. We harness the power of sound in creating the technology and human connections that accelerate the protection, preservation, and understanding of the natural world.

Ruling year info

2014

Principal Officer

Bourhan Yassin

Main address

440 Cobia Dr Suite 1902

Katy, TX 77494 USA

Show more contact info

EIN

46-2022575

NTEE code info

Forest Conservation (C36)

Protection of Endangered Species (D31)

Management & Technical Assistance (C02)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Communication

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Rainforest deforestation is a leading cause of climate change and directly threatens many species and impoverished communities around the globe. Many communities rely on the rainforest for their livelihoods and continued culture. Additionally, nearly 1/5 of global carbon emissions stem from deforestation, and 50 - 90% of deforestation is caused by illegal logging. Stopping this is likely the fastest and cheapest way to fight climate change today. However, the areas that need to be protected are so vast and dense, that patrolling on foot and visually-based monitoring systems are time-intensive and ineffective. Once illegal activities are detected, it is oftentimes too late. Rainforest Connection strives to use advanced technology and AI to analyze the acoustics to solve this problem and fight illegal logging and poaching.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Brazil, Tembé Indigenous Reserve

Rainforest Connection is working with the Tembé Indigenous People to protect their rainforest from illegal logging, illegal settlements, and incursions; with a goal of defending a key area of land that the Tembé have successfully taken back from destructive illegal settlers.

Population(s) Served
Indigenous peoples

The Cradle of Humankind is a paleoanthropological site about 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa, in the Gauteng province. It's the world's richest hominin site, home to around 40% of the world's human ancestor fossils. The area is also home to a diversity of birds, animals and plants, some of which are rare or endangered. RFCx is deployed in key locations to aid in the protection from illegal poachers and biodiversity monitoring.

Population(s) Served
Adults

In the Tambopata nature reserve in the east of the Peruvian Amazon, Rainforest Connection is working with local partner Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA) to combat deforestation threatened by illegal logging and gold mining. Using real time alerts local partners SPDA intervene and support the local parties to start legal processes and uses the acoustic material as evidence to ask for police support.

Population(s) Served
Adults

The Osa Peninsula in the southwest of Costa Rica contains the largest mesic rainforest remaining on the Pacific slope of Central America, largely in the form of Corcovado National Park. Working with the OSA Conservation Reserve team Rainforest Connection helps them fulfill the objective of protecting and monitoring the fragile ecosystem from poachers and loggers thereby increasing the ecosystem resilience in the Osa region.

Population(s) Served
Adults

One of Ecuador’s most diverse rainforest preserves, Cerro Blanco lies in close proximity to the sprawling metropolis of Guayaquil. As a result, it faces threats from deforestation, poaching, and urban encroachment. In concert with Fundacíon Pro Bosque (FPB), Rainforest Connection has set up a system to monitor for illegal chainsaws and poaching in real-time.

Population(s) Served
Adults

Working in conjunction with Conservation International (CI) and Peruvian government rangers, Rainforest Connection has deployed an acoustic alert system that listens for telltale indicators of deforestation, animal poaching as well as for trucks and vehicles that indicate narco-trafficking. The area served is exceptionally mountainous with no cell phone networks beyond the border, so RFCx also built (and maintain) independent networks to support our autonomous monitoring and ranger response.

Population(s) Served
Adults

Rainforest Connection is working with Tentsile and Agent Green to protect their country’s old-growth forests from the depravations of illegal logging and poaching. Sprinkled throughout Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, these wilderness areas are some of the last remaining vestiges of Europe’s once-sprawling primeval forests. Much as with forests in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, they’ve been subject to significant levels of illegal deforestation and poaching.

Population(s) Served
Adults

The rapid expansion of agro-commodity oil palm and other land-based investments at the expense of forests has led to a degradation of natural and social infrastructure (including land tenure conflicts). Rainforest Connection is working with KKI Warsi and the Community Group of forest managers see the need to develop patrol methods and forest monitoring technology using Rainforest Connection technology so that community groups can monitor over time and expand the monitoring area compared to the usual monitoring methods.

Population(s) Served
Indigenous peoples

With RFCx technology, on the ground Partners will ultimately be able to strategically monitor 18000 acres and halt illegal logging and animal poaching. These areas are key to stopping deforestation in the last remaining, large tract of lowland Chocó rainforest in Ecuador

Population(s) Served

The Mashpi Reserve is located in one of the world’s most biodiverse places, home to a stunning cloud forest and rare endemic species. This reserve, together with Fundacion Futuro, represents a sprawling beacon of conservation. Mashpi is part of the larger Chocó biogeographical region that spans the length of Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Rainforest Connection has successfully installed Guardians at strategic places in the Mashpi Reserve. Through the installation of the Guardians, the Mashpi Reserve team is able to support the social mission of the Metropolitan Touring of protecting the surrounding areas of the Mashpi Lodge and helping conserve a substantial portion of the remaining Choco bio-region in Ecuador after it experienced years of deforestation.

Population(s) Served
Adults
Adults

Where we work

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Area of land, in hectares, indirectly controlled by the organization

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Increasing

Number of conservation areas with evidence that illegal activities causing key threats have declined or stabilized

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success

Increasing

Number of carbon emissions prevented (estimated by CO2 equivalent)

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

Adults

Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success

Increasing

Context Notes

Unit: tons

Number of initiatives where site(s) have been declared protected areas

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

Indigenous peoples, Adults

Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Increasing

Number of countries operating in

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Holding steady

Number of species classified for automatic detection

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Increasing

Number of endangered species' acoustic signatures found

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Increasing

Number of species automatically detectable in real time

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Increasing

RFCx Guardians deployed to-date

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Increasing

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

Rainforest Connection (RFCx) is a nonprofit tech start-up committed to applying the most effective and timely technology to protect our planet’s precious, ancient forests and wildlife. Their large-scale goal is to give the people on the ground the technology they need to protect their forests from all illegal activities, such as logging, poaching, and mining. In order to do this, the individual project goals are more specific. Permanent RFCx locations are mapped to help monitor key areas for incursions and deploy (“Guardians”) at targeted locations. They train the local partners to use the system, including how to use/navigate the Web Console and Ranger Application to review alerts and use the reports and data for maximum effectiveness, as well as a general understanding of how the Guardians operate and are deployed. This is done so the local partners are prepared to eventually managing the RFCx Guardians themselves. As the local partners accompany the RFCx teams, this leads to the local partners being informally trained on basic Guardians installation and deployment. The objective is to send real-time alerts to partners on the ground which enables them to investigate the potential threat and intervene as necessary. This allows for patterns of activity to be found for planned interventions and to measure the effectiveness of responses by decreased logging or poaching activities in the area. RFCx can then capture and archive forensic evidence of illegal activity for prosecution and create a large trove of rainforest data for future analysis and expansion of the sound/alert library and ecosystem benchmarking, allowing for species accounting.

Having tested the system for over four years in rainforests around the world, RFCx has moved beyond proof of concept. RFCx technology acts as a force multiplier which does much of the work for a fraction of the cost. RFCx technology is advancing through a comprehensive biodiversity monitoring program that allows the local partners to measure progress of wildlife restoration and recovery through principles of adaptive management. RFCx strives to protect as much of the world’s remaining intact ecosystems as possible to slow climate change and conserve biodiversity.

RFCx strives to be at the forefront of conservation technology. As a natural progression to data being captured, RFCx is also building a Bioacoustics platform. Bioacoustics studies have proven to be uniquely powerful in understanding the health and makeup of ecosystems, but methods of capture and analysis have been expensive, effort intensive, highly specific and uncollaborative. To date, data are often stored in unstandardized formats on local disks with little means for collaboration, and software tools for analysis are run locally.

The only anti-logging methods prior to RFCx were ground patrols, camera traps, and satellite imagery, none of which allowed coverage of large expanses as well as timely alerts. Guardians were built out of used smartphones, solar panel scraps, a microphone, and an antenna to act as an acoustic monitoring device. Acoustics are able to cover much larger areas and aren’t hindered by the visual limitations of the forest, enabling real-time alerts across vast reserves. What sets this solution apart from others is the ability for the devices in the field to live stream the sounds of the forest 24/7. The recorded audio is then uploaded to the cloud where deep learning AI models run over the data uploaded and are able to make instant detections. Whether it is a chainsaw sound, vehicle, or the detection of a specific animal species, rangers and conservationists on the ground are immediately alerted on their mobile devices. RFCx role as a technology provider allows them to partner with local NGOs and indigenous tribes to deter incursions through real time threat detection and provide forensic evidence to enable governments to take action for prevention. RFCx makes this data available to academic researchers and government agencies to assist the fields of field ecology and conservation. Another benefit of the continuous recording is the creation of a sound Arc of the forest which enables analysis of this audio over and over as new detection models are created and added to the platform. The need and the impact of a Bioacoustics Platform was clear. However, there were many challenges to developing this platform. The use of advanced technology by scientists specializing in conservation was little to none, and the same was at the flip side - only a handful of data scientists were working on using AI technology for conservation. Because of the field experience that RFCx has; the access to data and the trusted relationships with scientists, the RFCx team is best positioned to lead these efforts and revolutionize the way scientists use technology to make discoveries, process their data and conduct their research.

RFCx has also developed the first working model of a Bioacoustics Platform that aggregates acoustic data from various sources enabling audio-fed deep learning models to ingest and analyze audio at-scale. At every step of the process, RFCx teams are learning, understanding, capturing the information, developing and continuously iterating on the feature sets to allow for optimization and efficiency.

Additionally, RFCx team has partnered with industry experts to fast-track these efforts. One of the most significant is our partnership with Google. In 2019, Google.org launched the AI for Social Good Challenge. After a rigorous selection process which included thousands of applicants from all over the world, RFCx was one of the handful of NGOs awarded a grant exclusively for the further development of the Bioacoustics Platform.

The Rainforest Connection team is determined and resilient. The founder & CEO, Topher White, is an inventor, physicist, and software engineer. He has been building systems for large and small startups as well as international science projects, including four years working on nuclear fusion at ITER, in France. He is also a National Geographic Explorer. RFCx COO, Bourhan Yassin, is a long-time veteran of the tech industry. Bourhan has over fifteen years’ experience in building and leading large-scale Manufacturing and Engineering teams in several Bay Area companies including Powis and Zazzle, as well as the leading Dubai-based e-commerce company MarkaVIP, where he served as long-time COO before joining RFCx. Mahreen Qazi, Business Projects Director, is a versatile business transformation leader who over her illustrious career has helped guide business to success through sustainable value creation. With more than 15 years of operational and management experience working with leading companies in UAE; Mahreen has helped leading businesses succeed through business re-engineering and innovative growth strategies. Together, they lead a team of engineers and have developed the capacity to scale ecosystem protection using acoustics around the world. The Guardians have been iterated countless times over the five years of operation to be extremely robust to all unpredictable environmental factors. They generally last several years without needing physical maintenance, and updates can be pushed over the air. With support from many well-known and respected foundations and corporations, RFCx is well-equipped to fund and implement many more projects in the upcoming years. Rainforest Connection is also expanding its capabilities to support bio-monitoring of endangered species. Developing new AI models requires expert engineers, which limits scalability, so they are building a web based platform that allows biologists and ecologists to collaborate together with data scientists, to create new AI models and continually fine-tune existing AI models. Their objective is to ultimately be able to detect hundreds of species, to support monitoring and protection conservation efforts.

Rainforest Connection Guardians have been improved many times over the years and are now functioning extremely effectively. Once installed, they generally work well for several years without having to be touched. Over 2019, RFCx upgraded them even further to make them incredibly robust to survive the harsh environmental conditions present in the rainforest. By doing serious updates to our hardware, software, solar panels, and antennas, the Guardians are in better shape than ever to last a long time. These devices have internal storage and offline recording capabilities, allowing for constant data collection. Guardians have directional antennas able to pick up signals from 24-25 km away. Running on solar panels, they are self-sustaining. They use CDM to find the nearest server (hundreds of thousands all over the world) utilizing a cloud solution company, and RFCx hosts the data on the closest server automatically. The Guardian software can be updated over-the-air, so RFCx can push updates and new enhancements. All audio collected is uploaded to the cloud, where they do analysis and run AI/Machine Learning to detect the sound of illegal activities (chainsaw, vehicle, and gunshot models) and various animal species. This allows for models to be constantly improving. Nearly immediate alerts are sent to rangers on the ground using the RFCx Ranger App or web console. The Ranger App is available as an easily downloadable app on Android phones. It includes features like the rangers being able to verify alerts by audio and spectrogram, incident reporting, ranger tracking, mapped interventions, and Guardian filtering capabilities. RFCx is expanding to monitor and conserve areas all over the world.

Rainforest Connection is in 10 countries on 5 continents protecting over 2,500 sq km of rainforest. We have been implementing this innovation around the world in an ever-evolving form since 2014. Through tremendous trial and error, RFCx has a very effective system that functions well time and time again to detect and stop illegal activities. For example, they work with the Tembé tribe in Brazil, and, because of the installed Guardians, they have been able to retake over 40% of their reserve from invasions. Each project has similar unique statistics. The greatest evidence of success and progress is the number of reserves around the world that are interested in implementing the RFCx system and the amount of media coverage RFCx receives. RFCx has over 40 projects in the pipeline waiting for funding for 2020. They partner with organizations such as Google, World Land Trust, World Resources Institute, USAID, National Geographic, The Cornell Lab, Conservation International, IUCN, AWS, SAP, and Hitachi that all support our work.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We demonstrated a willingness to learn more by reviewing resources about feedback practice.
done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • Who are the people you serve with your mission?

    Partners on the ground, local rangers, indigenous people, local governments, local conservationists, and scientists.

  • How is your organization collecting feedback from the people you serve?

    Focus groups or interviews (by phone or in person), Suggestion box/email, conversation,

  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify and remedy poor client service experiences, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To identify where we are less inclusive or equitable across demographic groups, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve,

  • What significant change resulted from feedback?

    One of our project sites where we deployed a set of guardians wasn't covering as large an area as we had intended. The rangers on the ground had let us know there were some blind spots. We then worked with the local partners and rangers to go back on site and reassess deployment sites to better protect a larger portion of that forest.


  • With whom is the organization sharing feedback?

    The people we serve, Our staff, Our board, Our funders, Our community partners,

  • How has asking for feedback from the people you serve changed your relationship?

    We create a partnership with those we serve. We don't simply provide the technology. We also train and provide continual support. We empower our on the ground partners with the tools and services to better protect and monitor their local natural areas. Their feedback and partnership to better our support and services is the only way we can do our job properly. They know the area and the issues best. We tailor all projects to their needs and the needs of the diverse areas we are monitoring and protecting.

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

    We collect feedback from the people we serve at least annually, We take steps to get feedback from marginalized or under-represented people, We aim to collect feedback from as many people we serve as possible, We take steps to ensure people feel comfortable being honest with us, We look for patterns in feedback based on demographics (e.g., race, age, gender, etc.), We look for patterns in feedback based on people’s interactions with us (e.g., site, frequency of service, etc.), We engage the people who provide feedback in looking for ways we can improve in response, We act on the feedback we receive, We tell the people who gave us feedback how we acted on their feedback, We ask the people who gave us feedback how well they think we responded,

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    We don’t have the right technology to collect and aggregate feedback efficiently, It is difficult to find the ongoing funding to support feedback collection, It is difficult to get honest feedback from the people we serve,

Financials

Rainforest Connection
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Operations

The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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Connect with nonprofit leaders

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Connect with nonprofit leaders

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  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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Rainforest Connection

Board of directors
as of 01/27/2023
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Rob Conant

Topher White

Rainforest Connection

David Klien

Rainforest Connection

Winnie Lam

Rainforest Connection

Liliana Jáuregui

Rainforest Connection

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? Yes

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 3/4/2022

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? GuideStar partnered on this section with CHANGE Philanthropy and Equity in the Center.

Leadership

The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Multi-Racial/Multi-Ethnic (2+ races/ethnicities)
Gender identity
Male, Not transgender (cisgender)
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

No data

Gender identity

 

Sexual orientation

No data

Disability

No data

Equity strategies

Last updated: 07/20/2022

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

Data
  • We review compensation data across the organization (and by staff levels) to identify disparities by race.
  • We ask team members to identify racial disparities in their programs and / or portfolios.
  • We disaggregate data to adjust programming goals to keep pace with changing needs of the communities we support.
  • We employ non-traditional ways of gathering feedback on programs and trainings, which may include interviews, roundtables, and external reviews with/by community stakeholders.
  • We have long-term strategic plans and measurable goals for creating a culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.
Policies and processes
  • We use a vetting process to identify vendors and partners that share our commitment to race equity.
  • We have a promotion process that anticipates and mitigates implicit and explicit biases about people of color serving in leadership positions.
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.
  • We have community representation at the board level, either on the board itself or through a community advisory board.
  • We help senior leadership understand how to be inclusive leaders with learning approaches that emphasize reflection, iteration, and adaptability.
  • We measure and then disaggregate job satisfaction and retention data by race, function, level, and/or team.
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.