What do you do?
FromOverHere supports governments on national strategy and strategic coherence – through research, advisory, consulting and training. We focus on open government, because a lot of issues, even in domestic policy, are emergent and influenced by international trends.
The School of International Futures is a not-for-profit organisation equipping senior policy makers with the skills they need to take the future into account when making decisions. We facilitate training courses, mentoring and retreats so that participants can explore beyond the short term. We focus on the big trends that will make a difference such as demography, technology, natural resources and so on.
How did you get there?
Before founding FromOverHere, I spent three years at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). I worked on projects as Strategy Project Director at the policy-planning unit. I was looking at long-term, cross-cutting issues and helped to make foreign policy more forward thinking and joined up across government.
What did you like about your job at the FCO?
We could talk to a lot of external experts. We got to look at a lot of issues as part of the really big picture. We could talk to other governments on key future issues without constraints.
What did you do after leaving the FCO?
I first spent time in Central Asia, which reaffirmed my desire to do policy-planning style work on a more flexible and international scale, hence the decision to set up my own company. Working at the FCO, I made a lot of contacts that stood me in good stead. As a generalist, I relied on relationships and on gathering information from experts.
What are the key skills you gained at the FCO?
Mostly soft skills: building relationships and listening to people’s expertise. My first degree was at Cambridge in Social and Political Science, but confidence and networking are skills I really gained while studying at Princeton. Mentoring young women in the field is important because they lack relevant role models and they don’t always have the confidence, personal contacts and entry points necessary to develop those networking skills.
How did you gain your experience in strategy?
Previously, I had worked in the Prime Minister’s strategy unit. I also did a Master’s degree at Princeton University in Public Policy. I’ve always had an interest in international relations, fuelled by my interest in social justice and the belief that the solution to international policy challenges only comes when the private and public sectors as well as civil society come together. This interest and expertise has been shaped by my work with the World Bank, the European Union, in Africa for NGOs, for Procter & Gamble and for Christian Aid.
Did you have a plan in your career?
My choice wasn’t always strategic but it was always about following those two principles (social justice and gaining cross-sectoral insights). I was able to collect a lot of skills and experience by working in multiple organisations.
What is your favourite thing about working for yourself?
I have more flexibility to achieve what I want. I get to travel, to meet interesting people. There is no distinction between my life and my job; I get fulfilment from my work, which is a core and integral part of who I am.
And your least favourite thing?
Lumpy cash flow.
Is entrepreneurship big in foreign policy?
Not yet, because long-standing brands have power. The UK lacks innovative think tanks in foreign policy, which is a real problem. There is also a lack of diversity in thinking because of the lack of diversity, particularly in gender, class and race amongst foreign policy thinkers and actors.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
It’s all very well talking about strategy, long-term and the right thing to do, but you need to take that perspective to where people are in their day-to-day lives and frame the discussion in a way that makes it relevant to their challenges and incentives and the real choices and decisions they need to make in the next six months.
Is there anything you would do differently?
Get out of big institutions earlier. I have gained so much more confidence working for myself and I am so much happier. I also wish I learned Chinese at school.
I wish I had understood earlier the value of diversity. The educational system doesn’t teach us enough about respecting different points of view and different skills. It took me until I was 28 and at Princeton to realise the amazing transformative outcomes you can get by bringing people together. It can be painful but it is important to surround yourself with people who have radically different thoughts and expertise.
What advice do you have for women who would like a career like yours?
Have fun, be adventurous. Your career is so much of your life and can give you so much fulfilment, so make sure you enjoy the journey. Build your confidence and believe in yourself and the value you can bring. Network! In your mid-30s, you can hit a glass ceiling, which is a real phenomenon. Don’t tear yourself up about it. Get out if things are stuck – you can exercise exit as well as voice.
Which challenge women particularly face working in foreign policy?
A lot of strengths can feel like weaknesses: sensitivity, humility, subjectivity, understanding where people come from, understanding complexity, empathy… It can make you feel uncertain and if you come across as uncertain it can make people feel you’re weak.
But be confident – never apologise for who you are. Learning skills while being true to yourself can be difficult but ultimately rewarding. I have developed two ways of dealing with this: being able to flex your style and working for myself.
When I flex my style, I still know who I am underneath, even when I need to display skills appropriate to that given moment.
Working for myself has given me sovereignty over my decisions and myself. It makes it easier to be genuine and authoritative.
And - most importantly - do one's best to contribute to a better world.
Catarina Tully - Foreign and Development Policy Strategist
17 years' experience
CV in brief:
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Inspiring girls and young women to choose a career in foreign policy
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