Lanarkshire diplomat celebrates OBE after 40 years helping the world’s poorest


A diplomat born and raised in East Kilbride has told of his delight at being awarded an OBE after 40 years helping the world’s poorest people.

Jim McAlpine, originally from the town’s Greenhills area, was recognized for his contribution to international development in the Queen’s New Year’s Honors list.

The 60-year-old has just retired from his role as the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) deputy development director in Bangladesh having served in seven countries worldwide.

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Dad-of-three Jim told Lanarkshire Live: “It feels weird.

“Part of me thinks that working class kids from Greenhills, in East Kilbride, don’t get OBEs.

“My family are unbelievably proud and chuffed that this has happened.

“It was hard to keep it a secret. I told my wife Lorraine, obviously, and her immediate reaction was to burst into tears.

Jim on one of his meetings with Princess Anne

“The reaction since it came out has been really nice, my wife put it on Facebook and got hundreds of really nice comments.

“All my farewell parties have been canceled because the Omicron wave is just hitting Bangladesh now and I caught COVID, so the OBE news has softened the blow a little bit.”

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Jim has had a few encounters with Royalty during his career, meeting Princess Anne several times and meeting Prince Andrew once.

He went on: “I haven’t met the Queen, Prince Charles or Prince William, so it’d be great to receive my award from one of them and go for a Royal flush.”

The high-flying civil servant returns home to Scotland this month having recently supported the UK Government’s £120m COP26 pledge to tackle climate change in Bangladesh and a further £54million for girls’ education there.

Jim admits he never imagined how his career would unfold after being one of 350 staff recruited to work as a clerical officer when the then Overseas Development Administration (ODA) first opened Abercrombie House in his hometown in 1981.

The building now houses almost 1000 employees as the FCDO’s joint HQ.

Since his first overseas posting to Ecuador in 1991, Jim has served in the Solomon Islands, Thailand, Afghanistan, Ghana and twice in Bangladesh.

He also helped tackle HIV/AIDS at the height of the crisis in South Africa and had a ringside seat for the formation of the new country East Timor when the Indonesians pulled out in 1999.

Jim told us: “I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to help others around the world for 40 years.

“I grew up in a council house in East Kilbride and I remember it was a massive thing Abercrombie House opening in the town.

“I remember arriving for my first long-term posting to the Solomon Islands in 1992 as this wide-eyed kid thinking, ‘wow, this is amazing’.

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“My wife was in another car crying and thinking, ‘what have we done?’, but we both ended up loving it and have pretty much spent our lives overseas ever since.”

And Dhaka-based Jim has been no stranger to danger during his career.

But he continued: “Maybe it’s just me but I never have that ‘Spidey sense’ of danger.

“I’ve worked in a few places where you need to be on your toes, but personally, I’ve never felt particularly threatened because of the security arrangements we have in place.

“Afghanistan is the closest I think I’ve come to feeling uncomfortable. The worst thing that happened was when a Lebanese restaurant we frequented was targeted in an attack which killed 21 people.

“A suicide bomber blew the doors off and gunmen went in and just shot everybody who was in the restaurant.

“Two DFID consultants I worked with were killed, as was the local head of the International Monetary Fund, who I’d been having tea and a chat with every couple of weeks.

“But my experience is that Bangladesh is a country where people are genuinely friendly and welcoming.”

Jim has dedicated the bulk of his career at the forefront of the UK Government’s efforts to improve the lives of people in Bangladesh.

He worked there for seven years from 2005 before returning as deputy development director in 2017.

Jim’s work has helped lift millions of people out of poverty and includes supporting the 903,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled violence in Myanmar since 2017.

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Between 2015-2020, UK aid gave 984,000 Bangladeshi people sustainable access to clean water, supported 6.12million people with urgent nutrition-related interventions, and gave 1.86million children the chance to go to school.

Sir Philip Barton, Permanent Under-Secretary at the FCDO said “The UK’s impact around the world depends on exceptional people like those recognized in this year’s Queen’s New Year Honours.

“We are grateful for their outstanding contribution.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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