From NGO to Public Sector | Careershifters

What work were you doing previously?    

I worked in Communications with an international health care NGO which focused on research and policy, training, international aid and more.  

At the same time I did some consulting with digital startups to help them grow their business and products. 

Initially upon graduating business school, I worked in marketing and sales but found the work quite ‘soulless’.

What are you doing now?    

I now work as a Policy Advisor in the Cabinet Office as part of the Priority Projects Unit.

Why did you change?    

Although my work with the health care NGO was definitely more fulfilling and impactful than my previous sales job, I felt that the organisation was struggling with a number of traditional issues that some charities tend to face. 

Mainly, a lack of funding and capacity, which meant I was always at the hamster wheel of execution and delivery. There was never time to critically think and reflect on how we could have done things better to make more of an impact. 

At some point, the organisation hired a company to help create a theory of change. This process made me realise I really wanted to work with organisations that focused (and continually reflected!) on their purpose and impact. 

Are you happy with the change?    


Public policy is something I’ve always been really interested in.

I was particularly interested in my role because each policy advisor in my unit gets sent on short-term placements, typically around three to six months, to support complex, urgent priority projects across the Cabinet Office. 

This means I get to move around a lot, work on diverse matters and get a really comprehensive understanding of the system and how it all works. And most importantly, I get to work on issues that are key in terms of their impact on people’s lives.

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

I don’t miss the feeling of just having to execute without getting a chance to look up and reflect and have the capacity to innovate. 

I do sometimes miss the ‘clarity of impact’ that working in a charity brings. I knew that what I was doing was ‘good’ and impactful, as my work was directly contributing to saving peoples lives (even if the organisation was potentially not doing it in the most efficient way). 

There was a kind of simplicity to that and it brought me peace of mind at night (to an extent).

How did you go about making the shift?    

I came across the On Purpose Associate Programme and was really attracted by the idea of experiencing two different organisations and positions. 

Looking at some of the placements On Purpose was partnering with, I really appreciated the diversity of organisations, yet they were all working on urgent issues.

I was aware that On Purpose is quite focused on systems change, so felt that their partner organisations would have a similar mindset, approach and energy to doing things. 

I also felt that getting to work in two different roles would give me the opportunity to bottom-out some of my ‘career what-ifs’.

My first placement was working for the Chief of Staff office at Natwest. As Purpose Manager, I was supporting the organisation on its journey to embed ‘purpose’ into the business. 

It was a really interesting placement because I was working across many different departments, talked to people of all ‘ranks’ and got to experience the complexities of pivoting a large organisation. 

My second placement was with ReLondon, where I was a Project Manager in the Business Transformation Team. Here I worked on the development of a digital platform with the aim to scale circular economy businesses and projects around London. 

When I started my placement with ReLondon, the platform was at a point of critical reflection, so part of my work was to engage with its users and a digital development team to revamp the platform.

I started applying for jobs in the last two months of the Associate Programme. I then went travelling for a month, and actually ended up doing some interviews in Vietnam in a hostel! 

While searching, I made use of a really good portfolio of purposeful job boards and checked these on a regular basis.

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

I knew at least a year before joining the Associate Programme that I wanted to make a change. 

So I started to prepare myself for that financially, in terms of my living and travel expenses, and general decisions around spending. I also set aside some of my savings, which ended up supplementing my On Purpose Programme salary. 

And I got smart with money, helped by London budgeting blogs. For instance I got a railcard, and started to primarily shop at cheaper supermarkets.

What help did you get?    

There was support in spades! 

Naturally I got lots of support from my Programme cohort, through our Friday training but also meetups at the pub after.

We had a number of accountability groups and quite a robust WhatsApp chat where people would ask questions about their placements, but also had discussions about their values and what everyone wanted to do after the programme.

The On Purpose team was also super supportive. Throughout my year as an Associate I had various check-ins with team members and the Friday trainings really helped me reflect on my journey. 

Finally, my coach was amazing! Working with her really helped me tease out the outstanding questions I had when thinking about my next job. She helped me structure my thinking and clarify my goals.

What have you learnt in the process?    

That as long as you are curious and have the willingness and desire to get stuck in (at a placement or job), it really doesn’t matter what kind of experience or career background you have. 

You can add value and do good work. 

Being on the Associate Programme showed me that I have invaluable transferable skills and it really helped to build my confidence. 

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

I’d say, really reflect on your desire to make a change. 

Are you wanting out of your organisation to do a similar role elsewhere, or are you looking for a deeper change? How is this change going to look in five to ten years time? 

With regards to the Associate Programme, have a good look at the different organisations On Purpose partners with and think about which organisations you get excited by and why.

If you were to end up in one of these organisations, how would this change how you’re seeking work after the Programme?

To learn more about the On Purpose Associate Programme, visit

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

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

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