Profiles in Regeneration: Rob, 29, U.S.

What if the government funded projects around the theme “moral imagination,” inviting artists and young visionaries to inspire people to imagine what the future could look like, feel like, be like?

Young people all around the world are working to build a regenerative future. At 29, Rob Lau is one of those people. He is a documentary filmmaker who focuses on addressing critical issues around sustainability through personal stories. He is now working on a documentary focused on one woman in the Marshall Islands, helping her to have her voice heard.

Regenerative Futures: How are you feeling right now?

Rob Lau: I’m feeling a lot. For me, the pandemic has created the time and space to contemplate where the world is at. It has allowed the Earth to heal and has forced us to slow down. As a storyteller, my hope is that despite the challenges we have faced collectively, we are resilient as a species. I feel that stories have the power to shift paradigms, and so I am optimistic for what’s to come.

RF: What’s a secret your search history can tell us about you?

RL: I try to only search incognito because I prefer not to have my data mined, but since we’re divulging secrets today…I love to cook! My open browser tabs usually consist of different pizza dough recipes. My friends like to joke, “When are you going to open a restaurant?” But for me, cooking has always been about having fun, learning through trial and error, and making something nourishing. What temperature does grapeseed oil smoke at? What range of water temperature activates yeast but doesn’t kill it? These are things you would find in my search history if I had one.

RF: What are you reading/learning about at the moment?

RL: One of the books I’m currently reading is The Wayfinders by Wade Davis. I first learned about Wade through an ethnobotany class, and then to my amazement, I had the opportunity to meet him when he spoke at my college in my senior year. I was interested in gleaning his perspective on why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world.

RF: Who is your favorite human and why?

RL: Nainoa Thompson is one of my biggest inspirations, not just for his mastery of wayfinding but for his ability to tell stories. In 1893, when the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown by the U.S., Hawaiian language, arts, and wisdom were at risk of being lost. However, almost a century later, during the Hawaiian Renaissance, Nainoa had the opportunity to travel to Micronesia to learn from the Master Navigator Mau Piailug and bring the gift of voyaging back to Hawaiʻi. From 2013–2017, Hōkūleʻa successfully circumnavigated the globe with only the stars and Nainoa was a big part of this achievement. He embodies true leadership.

RF: Which key moment inspired you to start your project?

RL: In my experience, documentary storytelling is a lot like wayfinding; it requires you to trust the process since each step informs the next step. Projects like The Making of RISE and The Albizia Project are a culmination of my interests in art, climate change, and education. My “project” is my body of work, which is constantly evolving as I push myself as an artist. Many of the stories that I have been a part of transpired because I was invited to tell that story, so my progression has been about connecting and collaborating with key people.

RF: In two years’ time, what would success with your project look like?

RL: Success to me is reaching people: whether it’s provoking questions, inspiring hope, or guiding people to take action, I want the stories I tell to have impact. I have learned to work by myself or in a small team, but I would love the opportunity to grow my team and to tell more stories beyond Hawaiʻi.

RF: If you could focus a large percentage of government funding on one industry or project for the next five to ten years, which would you choose and why?

RL: What if the government funded projects around the theme “moral imagination,” inviting artists and young visionaries to inspire people to imagine what the future could look like, feel like, be like? We need art that guides us on where to go as a country and as a people. Our collective well-being could be addressed by focusing on what stories give life meaning, and how a new value system is essential if we want to live in a world where people are truly cared for and empowered by their government.

Stolen Goods

RF: What is the best and worst thing about the education system in your country?

RL: The worst thing about the education system in the U.S. is that it’s outdated; it was designed to create a workforce during the Industrial Revolution. One of the dangers of the education system is the “next-step mentality.” From a young age we are taught that the objective is to get good grades and to graduate, but this approach creates students who value outcomes over the process. We’re not meant to simply be workers; we’re meant to learn what it means to be human. The best thing about education, from my experience, is that it can cultivate a self-directed learner, a strong communicator, and an independent thinker. Because I was homeschooled until the age of 16, attended public high school for two years, studied abroad, and graduated from a private college, I’ve had a vast array of experiences. I’ve learned how to navigate by intuition and strive for my own sense of success.

RF: Do you have a message for anyone your age living in the year 2060?

RL: There is a lot of white noise in the world: people telling you how to act, society telling you who to be, and the media telling you how to feel. The influences that chart the trajectory of your life are important. Your time and energy are precious, so don’t spend it at a job you don’t love. Follow your intuition and honor what makes you feel most alive, or what brings you the most joy. Then, share it with your community and the world. If you are to leave a legacy in this world, it will require you to focus your life-force on not just what the world needs but what you truly value.

RF: What inspires or frightens you most about the future?

RL: When New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) came to speak at a rally in Hawaiʻi, I couldn’t help but feel inspired. The way she got up on her tiptoes whenever she was about to say something emphatic was not lost on me. Her story of going from being a bartender to defeating the heavily favored incumbent Joe Crowley when she was just 29 — the same age that I am now — couldn’t be a more unlikely narrative. Not only is she one of the few women of color in Congress, but she is the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress. In a field that is predominantly white and male, AOC gives me hope that other young leaders of color can step up to help shape the future we want to see.

To learn more about Regenerative List finalist Rob Lau, click here.

Regenerative Futures

A Gen Z-designed model for a world built upon the principles of Regeneration from Irregular Labs.

Regenerative Futures

Regenerative Futures is a Gen Z-designed model for a world built upon the principles of regeneration: equity, inclusivity, fluidity, and the pursuit of circularity and abundance. An Irregular Labs Initiative.

Regenerative Futures

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Regenerative Futures is a Gen Z-designed model for a world built upon the principles of equity, fluidity, and sustainability. An Irregular Labs initiative.

Regenerative Futures

Regenerative Futures is a Gen Z-designed model for a world built upon the principles of regeneration: equity, inclusivity, fluidity, and the pursuit of circularity and abundance. An Irregular Labs Initiative.