Robin Pang
9 July 2024
Matin Sarfraz
9 July 2024

Shari Nijman and Ng Yuk-hang

Two reporters pivoted from journalism to do international humanitarian work

JMSC graduates are using their journalistic skills at international organisations to make the world a better and safer place. 

Based in Bangladesh, Shari Nijman (MJ 2011) works as a communication officer at UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. Ng Yuk-hang (BJ 2008) is a London-based policy manager at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an international nonprofit that finances research to develop vaccines. 

After graduating from the JMSC, Shari worked as a UN correspondent at online news media South-South News in New York. A few years later, the Dutch-born journalist joined the United Nations to work as public information officer.

After a two-year stint at the UN headquarters in New York, she moved around — Nairobi in Kenya, Geneva in Switzerland, and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh — to work at different UN agencies: first the UN Environment Programme and then UNHCR. 

“I think the most important thing about working for a large organisation is truly believing in what it stands for,” Shari said. 

Shari at the Rohingya Refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh. (Photos by Sumayet Naiyer Oshmita)

Shari with her UNHCR colleagues at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh (Photo by Fahima Tajrin)

As communication officer, Shari leads UNHCR’s efforts to amplify the voices of the one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who live in Cox’s Bazar. She has also witnessed their grief and suffering. 

In January, a blaze ripped through a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, leaving nearly 7,000 people homeless. The devastating fire generated a lot of news coverage, but international media quickly moved to other breaking news. 

Shari also creates engaging content for UNHCR’s social media channels to keep the public, and the media, interested in the humanitarian issue. 

She said her journalism training helps her tremendously. 

“I know what journalists look for in a story, what might hook them on a certain topic and even how they might try to navigate their way into certain corners of a space or a story for that ‘unique’ angle,” she said. 

After completing the BJ programme, fellow JMSC alumna Yuk-hang worked as a health reporter at the South China Morning Post. In 2011, she worked as the UK correspondent for the Post while pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Oxford on scholarship. 

After graduation, she returned to Hong Kong to report news for TVB. But less than a year later, in 2013, she took the highly competitive Hong Kong civil service exam. She was among the 24 candidates selected as Administratives Officers (AOs), out of more than 15,000 applicants. 

AOs are like the Hong Kong government’s “management trainee” programme, Yuk-hang explained, preparing them to advance to the most senior-level positions, such as department directors and permanent secretaries. 

During her decade-long career as an AO, she rotated between different bureaus and other government bodies, managing policies in various sectors, from sustainable transport to innovation and technology and affordable rental housing for young people. 

Her last posting, which coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, was in the Health Bureau. She oversaw Covid policies, particularly border control and cooperation with other governments. 

“The experience and connections I built as a health journalist became extremely useful for my work in the Health Bureau during the height of Covid,” Yuk-hang said. 

Yuk-hang at the launch event of Hong Kong’s Smart City Blueprint in 2017

Yuk-hang moved to London to join CEPI as policy manager in 2023

It also taught her the value of multilateral cooperation. “Managing Hong Kong’s Covid response on the frontline has made me realise how much the world can achieve if we all worked together,” she said.

It also motivated her to join the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) as policy manager in 2023. 

Her HKU days played a role, too. “The JMSC instilled in me the importance of being a global citizen and having an international outlook,” she said.

CEPI — with headquarters in Oslo and offices in Washington, DC, and London — gets funding from governments and philanthropic organisations to fund vaccine development projects. 

“I am responsible for developing the organisational stance on issues relating to pandemic preparedness and vaccine development,” Yuk-hang said. “I do that by closely monitoring the latest political, economic and social developments worldwide and analysing how they would potentially impact CEPI’s work.”

Her tasks at CEPI involve dealing with multiple stakeholders to ensure that vaccines are available to low-income countries during epidemics. She also works to raise political awareness about pandemic preparedness and the impacts of climate change on health systems. 

Yuk-hang’s experience as a health reporter and as a policymaker — which spanned 15 years — helped her immensely at CEPI. “Covid has shown the world how pandemics can kill and bring long-lasting impacts to all aspects of life,” she said.

Shari at an MJ internship sharing session in 2011

Yuk-hang during her days as a bilingual reporter for TVB

Both Shari and Yuk-hang have been open to exploring fields outside journalism.

Yuk-hang advised new graduates to be open to opportunities. “Reflecting on my own career, one thing led to another quite naturally,” she said. 

“Journalism is a great field to work in, but don’t hesitate to explore public relations,” said Shari. “If you do it for a cause that you believe in, it is a very rewarding field to work in.”