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Lanu Faletau – Obama Foundation Leader

Lanu Faletau, Obama Foundation Leader. PC: @junior.shoots
Alice Lolohea | Reporter/Director/Videographer

From the courtroom to the catwalk and now to Kuala Lumpur; Lanu Faletau is a lawyer, plus-size model, body positivity activist and now, an Obama Foundation Leader.

Next month 200 emerging civic leaders from around the Asia-Pacific region will descend upon Malaysia for the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific Program, and Lanu will be joining their ranks as a representative for New Zealand. These young leaders have been selected on the merit of their work in a variety of sectors and issues, and as a champion for diversity, Pacific representation and body positivity, Lanu is no exception.

In 2017 she was selected to attend the United Nations World Heritage Committee in Poland, where she provided research concerning the lack of Pacific representation within the forum. She later travelled to Samoa for a month-long internship conducting research for the Samoan Law Reform Commission and examining Samoa’s legislative frameworks.

A woman of her community, Lanu has volunteered with a number of at-risk groups and organisations, and worked with students who were on the cusp of pursuing a tertiary education. She has modelled for various Kiwi designers and walked the runways of New Zealand Fashion Week – one of the few Pacific models to do so. A mentor and former Tuakana Tutor at the University of Auckland with three degrees under her belt (including a Master of Law specialising in International Law), it’s clear that Lanu was made for leadership.

Representing Aotearoa at the conference is a huge honour for Lanu. “I grew up in New Zealand almost all my life. This is home for me. The person I have had the courage to become is from my upbringing here and the world class education New Zealand offers. It is therefore important for me to represent being from New Zealand, because I truly don’t think I would be who I am today if not for this incredible nation.”

PC: @junior.shoots

Of Tongan descent, Lanu is very proud of her Pacific roots, citing the four golden pillars of Tongan society (Fefaka’apa’apa’aki – mutual respect; Feveitokai’aki – sharing, cooperating and fulfilment of mutual obligations; Lototoo – humility and generosity; and Tauhi vaha’a – loyalty and commitment) as a key factor that grounds her in her work and in life.

“I think these fundamental values have been bestowed on me from my family, who have been bestowed that from their ancestors, and so everything I do is always to honour that. Being Polynesian, and more specifically Tongan, is who I am. I am so proud to be Polynesian… Tonga is where I was born and is the place that shaped who my parents and grandparents are. If not for Tonga, I would not have the tools to succeed in life.”

The conference will offer a wealth of knowledge and training from some of the world’s leading thinkers and speakers, including President Obama and Michelle Obama. The celebrated couple are on Lanu’s “who I want to meet” list, and the possibility of meeting the Obamas is something which she hasn’t overlooked.

“[They] inspire me in every way. I have looked up to President Obama since was I was in high school… Only last Christmas I was gifted ‘Becoming’ from my dad [Hon. Akau’ola] and Sue Akau’ola. The book really changed my life. Getting more perspective into how Michelle became who she is today encourages me, because it really is one of those books that you read and think, “I can do whatever I want.” I really hope that everyone feels the same way too!”

PC: @junior.shoots

Lanu hopes to use the conference as an opportunity to develop her own skills, particularly in the realm of her community work. “I think that educating myself and getting knowledge from all the resources the Obama Leaders Program and experience will expose me to is important. From there, I want to continue my community work in mentorship for youth and in particular, encouraging higher education to our community.”

While she feels both humbled and privileged to be named as an Obama Foundation Leader, for Lanu the selection was also bittersweet. “I feel very emotional. I wish my Mum was here to see what I am doing. Every achievement or milestone I pass, I feel the void of her absence. If not for her, there would be no me. Thankfully I have my incredible dad, Sue, my amazing fiancé Sione, my grandma Colleen, siblings, nieces, nephew and extended family who are always there for me.”

The Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific event will take place in Malaysia from December 10-14. The plenary sessions will be livestreamed via Obama.org.


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