How Louisa Keck Turned a High School Workshop into a CEO Role

Louisa Keck, the newly appointed CEO of The Reach Foundation, has an inspiring journey with the organisation that spans over 11 years. Based in Victoria’s Ocean Grove, Louisa attended her first Reach workshop at 16, a transformative experience that changed her life. 

Over the years, she has risen through the ranks, becoming a key player in the organisation while also earning her Doctor of Law from the University of Melbourne. Passionate about connecting young people and building emotional resilience, Louisa has been instrumental in expanding Reach’s programs to more schools in Victoria. 

In this interview, Louisa shares her personal journey, insights into balancing a demanding career while studying, her experiences with Reach’s impactful programs, and her vision for the future of the organisation.

Louisa, your journey with Reach started when you were just 16. Can you tell us about that first workshop and how it influenced your path to becoming CEO?

I had a Reach workshop at my school when I was 16 years old, which changed the course of my life. I went to a big all-girls private school, and we could be pretty nasty to each other sometimes. It was during the Reach workshop when it really hit me how my behaviour was negatively affecting other people’s experience at school, and I realised I didn’t want to be seen as that person anymore. I apologised to a few girls in the year level and decided I wanted to have a more positive effect on others moving forward. I didn’t know then but I would actually go on to join Reach’s crew program, train to become a facilitator and deliver that same workshop for thousands of other young people, and eventually become the CEO of Reach.

You’ve been part of Reach for 11 years now. What are some of the most impactful moments or experiences you’ve had during your time with the organisation?

I’ve actually been involved consistently since 2011 – so 13.5 years in total. There are too many moments to count – from running my first programs, becoming accredited as a Senior Facilitator, meeting some of my best friends through to more recently working with the Executive Leadership team to steer the organisation through the challenges of the pandemic, growing our social enterprise arm Wake by Reach, and more recently becoming CEO at the end of last year. One of my favourite parts of the role is how I’ve been able to see so many generations of Reach crew members grow up within the four walls of Reach, growing their confidence and skill as facilitators as they have gone on to lead our programs and kick incredible goals both inside Reach and in their outside lives.

Can you share what it was like to balance your role at Reach whilst studying for your Doctor of Law at the University of Melbourne? How did you manage to juggle both responsibilities? 

I’ve always been someone who thrives off balancing many different projects at once… I have a short attention span and can get bored if I’m just focused on the one thing for too long! So I mostly really enjoyed the balance of studying the Juris Doctor and working full time at Reach. I felt like my study really stimulated me intellectually and academically while my world at work was challenging me in different ways. There were definitely moments when competing deadlines created lots of stress but I tried to never let the stress get the better of me and focused on one task at a time.

The mission to connect young people and build their emotional resilience and encouragement is incredibly inspiring. How do you see your role as CEO contributing to this mission? 

Because I’ve been at Reach for so long, I’ve had the opportunity to deliver on this mission in lots of different ways. Initially it was very hands-on – I was out at schools and in the community delivering the workshops and programs myself, before moving onto training other facilitators to deliver the programs. Obviously my day to day looks a bit different now as I am responsible for ensuring Reach has the funding and strategy it requires to be able to grow and deliver on our mission for hundreds of thousands more young people across Australia and beyond in the years to come. Having said that, I still try to pop into our programs and trainings whenever I can to make sure I stay connected to the crew and our work – I even delivered a term of facilitator training for the team earlier this year!

You recently took part in the Very Uncomfortable Challenge by running 100 kms in a month. What motivated you to embrace this challenge, and what did you learn from the experience? 

Every single day our teams are out in schools and in the community, delivering workshops that encourage young people to step outside their comfort zones and embrace the magic that comes from being vulnerable. This year we went out to our community to run a fundraising campaign that encouraged individuals to embrace un-comfortability – by taking on a challenge that will push their comfort zones. For me, that was committing to the goal of running 100 kms across the month. Running has never come very naturally to me, so beyond being physically uncomfortable, one of the things I found most uncomfortable about the challenge was continually prioritising the time for myself and for exercise when I had a thousand other things going on. It was a big slog, but I learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of throughout the month and got a lot out of it. The highlight was a 30km run along the coast from Jan Juc to Anglesea and back – something I never would have thought I was capable of before I put my mind to it.   

Looking ahead, what are some of your key goals and aspirations for Reach under your leadership? How do you plan to continue making a positive impact on young people’s lives?

It’s an amazing privilege to get to lead an organisation like Reach that’s existed for 30 years. Over that time, we have impacted over 1.5 million young people all across Australia through our youth-led preventative mental-health programs and workshops. Our programs are proven to help young people develop their sense of self and their understanding of others – two of the leading preventative mental health factors. At the moment, we have the capacity to impact around 40,000 young people each year but it’s my vision to grow that number to more than 100,000 young people each year so that we can create meaningful change and contribute to developing future generations of empathetic and self-aware young people who will change the world.  

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