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Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Road to becoming… a self-employed consultant


Annie Clare Mackillop took the plunge from a career in international development to self-employment


  • School: Notre Dame High, Norwich
  • University: 1988-1992 St Andrews International Relations (MA Hons); 1994-1996 PhD: International Diplomacy, Oxon

    Work experience:
  • 1988-1994: Retail assistant; bar hand; waiting staff (part-time)
  • 1994-1998: MP’s secretary
  • 1998-2007 Foreign and Commonwealth Office – trainee planner; region analyst; manager for regions
  • 2007-2010: Home Office: management lead
  • 2010-2012: British Council – information manager
  • 2012-2014: Plan International – area development lead
  • 2014-2017: USAid - area and regions manager (Middle East and India)
  • 2017: Self-employed consultant

Tell us about your job?

I am contracted by (mostly) international charities to project manage programmes abroad. I became self-employed last year after my employer, USAid, had its funding cut. It coincided with a move to Scotland to be closer to my parents. The only thing I thought I could do was consultancy work and while it was initially challenging I am now getting enough work to make it a feasible occupation.

Have formal qualifications helped you in your career?

When I went to university I didn’t know what I’d do. I fell into international relations and quickly realised it fascinated me. So my degree actually guided my career. You can never substitute experience for qualifications or training but employers still want to see candidates who have been proactive in this regard. Working for myself means I need to keep my formal qualifications relevant as it’s a very competitive field and the more marks you have to your credit, the better chance you stand of getting work.

What’s the best job you’ve had?

Working for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). It was my first foray into the civil service and it was the job that really developed my career. I thought I knew a lot about international relations until all my thinking was upturned by four years at the FCO. I worked in Afghanistan, Kenya, Israel, the US and Bosnia. It taught me the importance of international relations and the UK’s place in the world. That has never left me.

Describe your job in one word


What is the best advice you’ve been given?

Always stand up to bad decisions. My dad, a feisty traditionalist who was a career civil servant, hated those who lacked professionalism. You come across many, especially in government, who seem to be making up the numbers and they stand in the way of progress.

Do you work to live or live to work?

That’s difficult to answer. Without my career I’ve had I’d be a very different person and to a large extent my work has shaped me. I’ve taken jobs where the money has been less but the work more rewarding. However I have a real problem with people who define me by my work. I dislike when I’m asked by people whom I’ve just met what I do for a living because people often judge you by your job and not always positively.

Are you an expert in your field?

Modesty forbids! Not an expert but I believe I have skills and experience that not everyone in this field has got.

What’s your greatest achievement at work?

Setting up a school in Kenya. It took two years but the results were instant. It transformed the village and the local area. Seeing the children progress was the most magical experience of my professional life. I revisited the school in 2017 and it was incredibly poignant meeting with the headmistress and hearing of the achievements.

Is it scary being self-employed?

Yes. At first it was terrifying as the first contract I gained fell through. Then another organisation reneged on an agreement we had and I thought: is this how it’s going to be? But then I started again, spoke to the right people, marketed myself better and made the contacts that led to work. I’ve learned in a very short period of time not to take just any work and that quality is better than quantity.

Is the third sector the best sector to work?

Working in the third sector is not so far removed from the public sector. It’s a reality these days that as organisations have increasing reliance on government funding, the boundaries blur. I undertook research three years ago where a significant amount of the general public thought some big charities were actually quangos. All organisations are different but the high standards in all sectors I’ve worked in have been the same.



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