Wilson Oryema: How the ‘Regenerative Futures’ Program is Redefining Global Sustainability

Wilson Oryema’s latest project is puttting young pioneers at the centre of the climate narrative. Livia Firth speaks to Wilson about his journey to co-founding ‘Regenerative Futures,’ and how the non-profit is collaborating is partnering with the UN and Gucci to find 100 changemakers redefining global sustainability. 

Wilson Oryema, model, poet and activist, has been part of the Eco-Age family for a while now. Since 2017, when his first book of poems ‘Wait’ came out and he started to speak out on environmental issues – we have worked together on various occasions. What I love about him is that his quest for a better future started with a passion for anti-consumerism, based in a foundation of compassion and togetherness. It is not surprising then, that his new venture starts from here. As one of the co-founders of ‘Regenerative Futures,’ Wilson’s latest project is a not-for-profit creating a tangible platform for the next generation of creative thinkers. Starting with an open call for innovators under the age of 30 to share their ideas, the initiative plans to create a list of 100 people pioneering solutions for positive change. Speaking to Wilson about the project, one thing that shone through was the importance of encouraging young people to moving beyond social media activism to turbo charge the future, creating a whole new and inclusive definition of sustainability.
I love your idea for ‘Regenerative Futures’! Can you tell me some more about it? ‘Regenerative Futures’ is a four-year social change initiative, where the main focus is to break down the generational gap and facilitate more conversation between all positions of society, because a lot of our issues are rooted in this gap. The key thing is that a lot of times when there are issues in the world, people don’t focus on the ideas of young people. They’re typically ignored. And it’s really weird because everyone has this experience. You’re born, you go through your early years, teenage years, and people ignore you. Then as your generation grows older, you then do the same thing: you ignore the ideas of the young. So the key idea here is to bridge the generation gap and to facilitate intergenerational collaboration and conversation. With our different projects, the main one being ‘The Regenerative List‘, we aim to support 100 young innovative pioneers with ideas in all realms of society and offer them funding, mentoring and exposure to help get their ideas to the next level and help create a better and more regenerative future for all. I have been thinking about this for a while too. Alongside the resurgence of youth activism, I like how your initiative encourages people to move from protest to action in terms of what is the solution. Why exactly did you want to actively encourage young people to conceptualize and develop new ideas for the future in this way? I think the lack of opportunities many young people have today is a problem rooted in how much space or property we give them. So typically, due to lack of funding or support, the only outlet younger generations have to express themselves through is online. As a result, we’ve kind of conditioned the young generations to only speak or present ideas online. That is really limiting in terms of how the mind develops and conceptualizes things, as well as how you interact and are able to facilitate change on the ground level and with people in their day-to-day. For me, the issue with limiting these conversations or ideas to an online space is that people have no way of adding depth or dimensions to their concept. It’s like, you can teach someone how to fish, but it’s very different from being beside a body of water, having a fishing rod, knowing the temperature, and everything else. So in the same way, by broadening the scope of potential of these capable ideas, it also allows people to think of these concepts, such as sustainability, in a different way. Bridging this gap and allowing for people to be in touch with physical spaces and have their ideas reach as many people as possible just shows and proves that the Gen Zs and younger generations have as good ideas as anyone. Or even better in some cases!

What are some of the submissions that you received so far, that really caught your attention? Honestly, I think they all have. We haven’t received a single idea which is the same as another. It has ranged from people wanting to make short films, to people doing plastic collection and sea conservation projects, to alternative materials for fashion made from organic compounds, to online spaces for mental health and wellbeing, to virtual modelling agencies. These are all sustainable, regenerative ideas in all arenas – not just in the conventional ‘sustainability’ sense. It’s in the political sphere, it’s in gender equality with regards to fashion or sport, it’s in literally everything!  It’s given me a complete ‘redo the nation’ energy! You touch on a very important topic actually; how do you create a definition of the word sustainability that touches on everything? Sustainability in itself as a word means something that sustains in time. And you can only sustain in time if you take care the planet and you take care of the people. So now you have this amazing collection of ideas that is redefining that word in its traditional sense, what is the road map? What will happen next? The call to submit is open until July 24th, and then we will choose 100 ideas in all different spheres which are addressing multiple problems. 75 of them will be featured in The Regeneration Report, which we are doing in partnership with Gucci. This should be out in mid-September and will essentially be around a new concept of global sustainability, showcasing the young pioneers who are trailblazing and leading us to this new and better future. Some of the winners will also receive mentoring from either myself or people that we know, as well as various leaders of industry who can help elevate their ideas to the next level. We are also partnering with the UN and we will be able to get five of those chosen for the list to actually mentor world leaders for a fixed amount of time. If a world leader can be held accountable to a young person on ideas relating to whichever problems need to be addressed, what kind of changes come from that? This is also about testing ways of making change that haven’t been done before. That’s absolutely incredible. And I think now is the perfect time, when everyone is rising up to make change. And if you had one message for the very young kids, like the Tik Tok and the Snapchat generation who are now thinking about sustainability and activism as well, what would you say?  You can do it! Anything you think of, you can actually do it. I think a lot of people have this perception that they see other people do things and it’s not possible for them. But honestly, from A to B, from your idea to action, the gap is not that big. It may take you take some time, but you can do it. Just put your mind to it and just reach out to people you think can help support you. And if you need someone to bounce the idea off or talk to, I’m always here. Shoot me an email or a DM on whatever social media platform I’m on. Even if you don’t fit the criteria for ‘Regenerative Futures,’ I’m always personally very happy to help in any way I can.  
This is incredible Wilson. And so beautiful to see that you are hopeful for the future yourself.  Absolutely. I don’t think I’ve lost hope, regardless of whatever is going on. I think sometimes we have a linear perception of things, but everything is typically cyclical and our best effort should now be to try and resolve the problems and do better by ourselves and for our future generations. A lot of times people underestimate what can be done on a day-to-day basis and what massive changes that can lead to. So it’s about developing a step-by-step approach and about lowering the amount of issues we face. I definitely think that’s possible. So I’m honestly absolutely hopeful for what we have today and what we can do for tomorrow as well. And beyond that, how about you? How do you feel? I feel super hopeful. I’ve always been, because otherwise I couldn’t do what I do everyday. But now, I feel like all the pieces of the puzzle of our society have been scattered everywhere. We have this opportunity to put them back together in a completely new way, and it’s up to us and we are unstoppable. I am excited about the youth resurgence that had started with the Greta Thunberg movement and now is manifesting through initiatives like yours. Yes! But we need a lot more of these as well. Sometimes when people see a singular figure advocating for change, or even two or three, people just look and say, oh, let’s leave it all to them. Instead, it requires the efforts of me and the people I’m working with, and various other people who I may not know at all. We need more people to try and make change in different ways, in the same way music has grown to have so many diverse artists and sounds coming out. We just need a lot more people to rise up, create platforms and support those who are trying to make the change as well.

Find out more about ‘Regenerative Futures’ and apply now.

Read Wilson Oryema’s first-hand account of his journey into sustainability.

Discover some of Wilson’s poetry