“I knew I wasn't in the right place, but couldn’t figure out what to do next.”

Image of Olivia Beecham
From International Development to Responsible Business

Olivia Beecham's work was no longer a good fit for her values. After a disheartening time applying for different jobs, she tried a different approach. Here, she shares how immersing herself in a new sector helped her shift into work she loves.

What work were you doing previously?    

I had a career in international development, primarily working for the UK Government.

I was part of the Department for International Development and later the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office where I worked on various different policy and programme areas.

Alongside my day job, I volunteered as a trustee for Plan International UK.

The majority of my career was focused on supporting people in developing countries.   

What are you doing now?    

I work for a not-for-profit called Heart of the City where I collaborate with small UK-based businesses and support them on their responsible business journey.

I work with them on anything from community partnerships to social justice or sustainability. 

Why did you change?    

In my last 18 months in Government, I was working on a global health response to Covid-19, and prior to that I was a diplomat in Madrid trying to prevent a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

Both experiences threw up a lot of personal questions. I knew I wasn't in the right place, but couldn’t figure out what to do next.

How did you choose your new career?    

Speaking to various people, I realised that I didn't have to stay in international development, or in the civil service (it sounds silly but leaving wasn’t something I had seriously considered before!).

Once I realised changing sectors was an option, I thought about what I’d like to do.

I tried to go for something unlike my current job and applied for roles in completely different fields, such as food and beverage and consultancy. 

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get anywhere. When I look back at that moment, it’s clear I didn't know how to market my transferable skills.  

I then came across the On Purpose Associate Programme and everything just clicked. What appealed to me about the programme was that I’d be able to try out unfamiliar industries, roles and working cultures for six months at a time.

I hoped it would help me rediscover the happiness, passion and sense of purpose I had earlier in my career.

Are you happy with the change?    


It's a really varied job and I absolutely love it! I get to meet hundreds of businesses at different stages of their impact journey and see the difference that we’re collectively making. 

What do you miss and what don't you miss?    

Working in Government, I miss being part of something that made a difference at scale, such as poverty alleviation programmes that helped thousands, sometimes millions of people. 

However, I don't miss the uncertainty that comes with working in politics: the changes in ministers and political mood dramatically impacts your work as a civil servant. 

How did you go about making the shift?  

I started looking for jobs whilst I was in my final months of the Associate Programme.

I used the fact that I was on the programme to network and reached out to people with unusual job titles or who worked in organisations that I was considering applying to and asked them for a chat.

Importantly, I started these conversations before jobs were being advertised, giving me time to figure out whether it could be a potential fit. 

My On Purpose coach helped simplify my thinking on my next role and we established a succinct criteria I could map roles against. Having this list helped me focus my job search, realising the ‘how’ I worked was equally as important as to the ‘on what’. 

In the end, my current job came up via the On Purpose Slack channel. I initially wasn’t too sure whether I should go for it but after speaking with the person who had posted the job as well as two other people within the organisation and realised that this role would be a really brilliant fit! 

What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?

Despite my best intentions there were of course stressful moments of frantically trawling job sites at night, and becoming very anxious about what I’d do afterwards.

This wasn’t helpful and just left me more tired and drained. 

How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?

As I didn't know I was going to be on the Associate Programme until only a few months before it started, it was difficult to save for something you didn't know was about to happen. 

However, once I was told I was accepted onto the programme, I made small changes which also had a positive impact on my health such as travelling on bicycle, bringing in food rather than buying lunch, and other small shifts. 

For me I'm lucky that my partner was able to take on the extra financial stress.    

What help did you get?    

I found the On Purpose community incredibly supportive.

Taking the steps to change careers is hard but doing it with On Purpose made things easier. I had access to different support networks and I felt very connected to my cohort.

I think all of us cried (happy and sad tears) at least once during the year and our cohort was always a welcoming and safe space.

My coach, Patrick, who I was incredibly lucky to have been matched with was invaluable throughout the year and helped me discover many life realisations.

The other thing was my support network at home, primarily through my husband Oli. Having someone there to support you through the ups and downs makes things a little easier. 

What would you advise others to do in the same situation? 

If you're looking for a career change, think about if there are aspects of your current job that you could change to make you happier at work.

What I do now is work with businesses who are at the very start of their purpose journey. Could you help pivot your organisation?

However, if you feel that you’ll need to leave your job to find your path, then I’d 100% recommend applying for the Associate Programme. Taking this leap of faith and moving from familiarity and stability, to ‘instability’ takes courage, but I encourage you to be brave and stay committed!

I’d also recommend volunteering your time for something you care about. This will not only help you start putting your drive and passion into practice, but it will also demonstrate that, when applying for a job (or programme), you're committed to a cause or the development of a particular skill.

To learn more about the On Purpose Associate Programme, visit https://onpurpose.org/en/associate-programme.

Also, find out more about On Purpose in our Retraining Directory.

What lessons could you take from Olivia's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.