Seven years ago Tal Karp was standing in the Melbourne Children’s Court as a Legal Aid lawyer, representing a 17 year-old-girl, “for the fourth or fifth time”.
As she drew towards the end of her sentencing plea, she was struck by the realisation that “in another life, that girl could have been me”.
Tal recognised that the opportunities she’d been given as a child and teenager – including the kind offered by the Y – taking part in swimming lessons, school camps, going to outside school hours care, to the gym – and playing football as the only girl in Perth’s premier boys football league from a young age – had wrapped a strong support system around her that enabled her to take risks in a safe way.
“When it came to testing boundaries, putting my body on the line, taking risks for my friends – the people I called my team – I did it on a football field. This girl did it on the streets.”
“What if she’d had the opportunities and support structures I had?” Tal began to wonder.
“What if the system supported her, meaningfully, at an earlier stage?”
This marked one of several turning points in Tal’s career, understanding she wanted “to work not just “in the system”, but also “on the system”, to help prevent children and young people falling through the gaps in the first place.
“My time working with young people who were trapped in situations of crisis or high stress, taught me that real change requires acting meaningfully, earlier,” says Tal. “It requires us to support, empower and invest in young people to enable them to unlock their potential. And it requires systems change.”
Adding to her sporting career as a Matilda footballer and her career as a lawyer, in 2018, Tal left to explore proactive approaches to systemic change across sectors. She took a position as a Senior Ministerial Adviser to the Victorian Minister for Prevention of Family Violence and Women.
Next, she started her own business Sixfold Consulting Group, formed “during a hike in the south coast of Tasmania with a potential business partner, where we stress-tested our relationship under pressure, to confirm we would work well together.”
They decided they could.
The business, which she led for four years, was fueled by a desire to bring diverse people, including young people, into decision-making processes, “harnessing collective wisdom” to solve complex problems.
Tal intends to champion this “deliberative democracy” approach in her new role as National CEO of the oldest youth organisation in the world, today known as The Y. In Australia, the Y operates at the coalface across over 600 communities through the dedication of 14 member Associations, and 13,000 staff – 8,000 under the age of 30 – all united by a shared belief in the power of inspired young people.
“I put my hand up for this role because I really feel that there’s never been a more important time for the kind of work that the Y does. Standing with and for young people has always been a strong focus of my career. It’s work that gets me up in the morning, as I know it does for our team right across Australia.”
One of Tal’s first priorities – in addition to ‘listening, learning and absorbing as much as possible from each of the Y’s member associations, staff and stakeholders” will be to help the organisation double-down on its efforts to secure start-up funding for a new model for youth employment and training – the Y Careers Agency.
The agency will have an initial focus on employing, training and credentialing young people (up to 30,000 in its first 5 years) for care careers where there is a critical national shortage across childcare, outside school hours care, disability and aged care.
As a National Board member with the Y for three years from 2018-2021, Tal has some knowledge of the organisation, but assures she is not coming with any “pre-hatched plans or blueprint”.
Her broad vision is to make certain that as a federation, The Y is “future fit” – ensuring its relevance to local communities, staff, and particularly to young people; and leveraging the collective talent, knowledge and experience across the Federation to amplify collective impact and capacity.
She’s an advocate for evidence-based, proactive and strategic decision-making, and the need to ensure the organisation can measure the difference it makes.
And she’s excited about the direction of the global Y strategy that’s currently being co-created and how we can use the strategy to reset our own – “to define where and how we will have an impact both in and on the system.”
The strategy, she says, aligns strongly with her own lifelong commitment to pursue a just, sustainable, equitable and inclusive world.
Outside of work, Tal continues to serve on two boards, Victoria Legal Aid and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, and enjoys “connecting with people, keeping active and trying new things.”
She loves hiking and recently challenged herself to complete a 13-day solo hike in the Grampians – deliberately planned to challenge herself to be adaptive, and to help clear her headspace to transition to her new role as CEO for the Y.
Tal Karp started as National CEO with the Y 1 February, 2022.