Officers & Directors

Paula Franklin

Executive Director

Paula Franklin has been working with Empowers Africa since 2015. Her previous work as an independent public relations consultant focused on tourism clients in Southern and Eastern Africa. Her passion for the continent began on her first trip to Phinda Private Game Reserve in 2007 when she joined a rhino darting expedition that was part of andBeyond’s Black Rhino project. She subsequently secured a Conde Nast World Savers Award for that project on behalf of andBeyond.

Paula has traveled all over Sub-Saharan Africa including Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania. Her numerous trips to Africa have brought her to some of the most luxurious camps and lodges, as well as to dedicated philanthropic projects such as lodge-funded schools, community gardens, women’s business collectives and animal conservation initiatives.

Since graduating from Howard University, Paula has worked exclusively in travel and has built an exceptional network of contacts in the travel industry, specifically in New York’s publishing world. Paula has worked with Asilia Africa, Deeper Africa, andBeyond, Micato, Babylonstoren, Cape Grace and the Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa. On behalf of her clients, Paula has secured feature articles in The New York Times, Travel+Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Departures, Afar, National Geographic Traveler, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and many others. She has also secured television spots on The Today Show, Live with Kelly and Michael, The Racheal Ray Show, No Reservations and Ellen.

Ally Lebron

Director of Operations

Ally joined Empowers Africa with a background in primatology and wildlife conservation. After she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ally spent time living and working in the Democratic Republic of Congo while on assignment with a WWF project that focused on the conservation of wild bonobos. It was during this period that she gained a special appreciation for the benefits of community-supported conservation.

In 2015, Ally completed her MSc degree in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom. For her dissertation, she travelled to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda to explore the fragile relationship between the Park and its surrounding communities, as well as local ideas and attitudes regarding mountain gorilla conservation efforts there.

In August 2018, Ally represented Empowers Africa at the XXVII Congress of the International Primatological Society at the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya where she presented on human-wildlife issues. She currently serves on the Scientific Advisory Board for Cura Earth, a conservation non-profit based in New York.

Liz Kelly

Treasurer & Secretary

Graduate of Princeton University, cum laude, and of Harvard University School of Business Administration. Liz spent her career in financial services in New York City before moving to Florida to be a full-time mother. She spent over 15 years in Investment Banking at such firms as Salomon Brothers, Scully Brothers & Foss, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers. She retired in 2004 from Bear Stearns Merchant Banking (now Irving Place Capital) as Managing Director, Deal Sourcing. Liz has traveled to Kenya and Tanzania and is an Africa enthusiast. She is a former Advisory Committee member of Africa Foundation (USA).

Martha McGuinness

Marketing Director

Martha is graduate of Barnard College/Columbia University. Upon graduation, she began a career in journalism serving as Assistant Fashion Editor at The New York Times followed by positions at Seventeen Magazine, Marie Claire and Town & Country. Her career then took her in front of the camera where she served as a fashion/lifestyle correspondent for MSNBC, NBC News New York and CBS This Morning. She left publishing to take a position as Director of P.R. for Victoria’s Secret. After several years in media, Martha left to start Martha McGuinness Tennis, a line of luxury women’s tennis apparel. Martha has been active in a variety of charitable organizations. She consulted for the Wildlife Conservation Society on numerous projects and served as Co-President of the New York City Junior Council of Save the Children. She has traveled to Haiti several times volunteering at the Children’s Nutrition Center for Hôpital Sacré Coeur. Martha has traveled extensively throughout Ethiopia and Tanzania and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in the fall of 2016.

Sharon Shemtov

Strategic Partnerships

Sharon received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Arizona. She has worked in the fashion industry for the last 15+ years and has been involved in various local non-profit organizations including Save the Children, Ronald McDonald House, Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels. Most recently, Sharon traveled to Israel to volunteer with Greenpeace, an experience which reaffirmed her commitment to making a positive difference in the world. She is most passionate about efforts to protect wildlife and harbors a particular interest in the plight of rhinos and elephants. Sharon looks forward to working with Empowers Africa to achieve wildlife conservation and human empowerment goals.

Torrie Lebron

Program Assistant

Torrie graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2016 with a double major in History and Latin American Studies. She studied abroad in Chile and led service trips to Nicaragua throughout her undergraduate career. After graduation, she lived in Colombia and later Honduras for two years teaching English.

Although her background has been primarily focused on human empowerment in Latin America, Torrie has always been passionate about wildlife conservation. She was able to observe elephants in their natural habitat during a trip to South Africa in 2015 – an experience she will never forget.

Torrie is currently pursuing her Master’s in Social Work at Columbia University with a focus on Latin American immigrants.

Kristen Venter

Communications Coordinator

Kristen joined Empowers Africa as a 2016 summer intern and will continue managing the organization’s social media in the Fall. Born and raised in South Africa, Kristen has always had a passion for wildlife conservation. She spent her childhood on a game farm in the Limpopo Province where she first witnessed the devastating effects of rhino poaching.

Kristen is entering her second year at the Marshall School of Business at USC in Los Angeles. She is in the Business and Cinematic Arts (BCA) program, pursuing a joint major that specializes in business in the entertainment industry. She is minoring in Media, Culture and Entertainment in the Annenberg School of Communication. Kristen also plays for the USC Women’s Tennis team.

Caitlin Venter

Communications Coordinator

Caitlin is a senior at New York University where she majors in Media, Culture, and Communication with a Minor in Documentary Film. As a South African living abroad, she hopes to pursue a career in Media and Film, specifically documentary, to get people thinking about and engaged in African stories ranging from conservation to human rights.