US-born Shaun Bernier, managing director of non-profit entity Community Business Limited, knew from an early age that her aspirations would take her places.
A journalist by training, Ms Bernier kicked off her career by joining a charitable organisation rather than a publishing company or news establishment, initially as an intern and later a full-time staff member. The experience was rewarding and it reinforced her interest in her chosen path. She later moved on to the public sector, where her various roles included working for a member of the US Congress in Washington and in the office of Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York.
"When you work for a lawmaker, it's important to understand the political process and to have a way to influence the process," she says.
After completing a master's degree in public administration at Columbia University, New York, in 2007, Ms Bernier moved to Hong Kong with her fiance. She was interested in starting her own organisation, and founded Hands On Hong Kong (HOHK), the local affiliate of the Hands On Network, a non-profit organisation that facilitates volunteerism.
"When you manage a volunteer organisation, you need to make sure that your projects will benefit the community, so my first step was to get an understanding of local social issues and community needs," Ms Bernier notes.
She recalls being impressed by the positive response when she started approaching companies and NGOs. "It helped to have great contacts — Hong Kong is a compact world and this makes networking easier," she says.
In 2008, she joined the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) as director of volunteer operations, helping to organise the initiative's first meeting in Asia. Founded by former US president Bill Clinton, CGI brings together world leaders at annual meetings where members examine pressing global concerns and then make firm pledges to translate that into action.
"It's a terrific model to energise corporate donors, because they have an ongoing involvement with their NGO partners, so they don't just feel they're giving a cheque," Ms Bernier remarks, adding that the Asia meeting in December 2008 raised pledges of around US$250 million.
"I'd rather work late than work at home"
After a 10-month stint with CGI, Ms Bernier earlier this year became managing director of Community Business Limited (CB). The organisation works with companies to develop corporate social responsibility, among other roles.
Ms Bernier is responsible for managing relations with members and for overseeing corporate community investment activities. CB also actively promotes work-life balance, which she believes is particularly important in Hong Kong, given the city's hectic pace of life.
CB produces an annual survey on work-life balance in Hong Kong and recently launched a guide that was designed to help companies implement work-life balance programmes and related initiatives. "Many of the companies that we work with have great programmes in place, so we hope they can set an example to start bringing about change," she says. However, many local companies, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, may not have formal practices and policies in place. "We get these companies started through a series of workshops and work-life balance day campaigns," she notes.
A healthy balance is also an important concern for Ms Bernier personally since she still runs HOHK in her personal time. Regular gym sessions help her relieve stress, and she keeps work and leisure time strictly separate. "If I don't do this, I don't feel that I have a work-life balance. I'd rather work late than work at home," she stresses.
Next month, Ms Bernier will be addressing the WorldatWork Total Rewards 2009 Asia-Pacific Conference, a forum for employers and human resources professionals that aims to advance "total rewards", compensation, benefits and work-life balance to attract, motivate and retain a talented workforce.
"For me, the biggest reward is feeling that I've made a difference. It's very difficult to influence people, so every time I manage to do that, I'm pretty happy," she concludes.