The Challenge Leadership Team

Ankur Ahuja – Head of Strategy

As Head of Strategy, Ankur is responsible for working with the Directors Team and the Board of Trustees to develop the organisational strategy. He is accountable for defining and delivering the medium and long term strategy, and ensuring the organisation is best placed to implement it. He is currently on a 6 month secondment from Bain & Company, a strategy consulting firm where he has been working for the last four years.

Ankur is passionate about bouldering, mountaineering and theatre. His ultimate goal in life is to climb the seven summits – the highest peak on each continent – and he is almost halfway through! Prior to joining Bain, Ankur pursued an MSc in Finance & Economics from LSE.



Duncan Baldwin – Head of NCS Strategy, Procurement and Innovation

Duncan oversees three of the teams responsible for The Challenge’s delivery of NCS. The NCS Strategy team are responsible for the coordination of our long term plans to continue successfully delivering NCS. The Procurement team source the outdoor activities, accommodation, transport, food and equipment used on the programme. Innovation provide a process/business analysis and project management function in support of the other NCS departments. Duncan is also responsible for programme impact evaluation.

Duncan joined The Challenge in 2012 after working on the NCS programme. He has a background in law, fashion and professional sport. Duncan has a degree in Modern History from the University of Oxford and a GDL from City University.



Tim Bevans – Regional Head of Programmes – South

Tim heads up the NCS Programmes team for London and the south. He joined The Challenge in January 2016 and is responsible for ensuring that NCS programmes provide a high quality and positive experience for the young people who participate – right through from the initial set-up to delivery on programme and beyond.

Tim joined the Challenge having had a previous career as a senior leader in the Further Education sector, leading on areas related to student experience and inclusion. He has worked as an OFSTED nominee and led his last college to consecutive OFSTED outstanding judgements for residential provision. He is a qualified teacher and youth worker and is passionate about inclusion, safeguarding and quality. Tim has also lead successful international expeditions for young people to countries including Nepal, Morocco, Tanzania, Costa Rica and Thailand..

When not at work Tim is dad to two children, runs a Touch Rugby club and is trustee of a charity supporting young people and adults with disabilities.



Colin Cliff – Head of Curriculum

Colin heads up the Curriculum department focusing on the development of the National Citizen Service programme and ongoing graduate support. He joined The Challenge in October 2010 following over 10 years working in a variety of roles within the youth sector ranging from church based youth work, detached community work, and youth club provision.

Colin lives in South East London, and is married with two daughters aged 6 and 3. He is a professionally qualified (JNC) Youth and Community worker and has a degree in Youth and Community Work with Practical Theology from Ridley Hall College, Cambridge.



Edward Cook – NCS Head of Sales & Marketing

Edwards oversee our sales and marketing team working to ensure that young people from all backgrounds across the UK get to take part in NCS. He has been with The Challenge since working on NCS in 2011. Prior to joining The Challenge, Edward had a varied career including 9 years working in broadcasting, latterly as a journalist on New Zealand’s state broadcaster’s evening news. Following that he worked for a Maori tribe (Iwi), managing youth development programmes and supporting significant social and economic development projects. Seeking a qualification in youth development, Edward trained as a secondary teacher and travelled to the UK, where he taught in Bristol prior to joining The Challenge.

Edward recently appeared as an extra in a Bolivian beer commercial. He has been a board member of Scouts New Zealand and the Asia Pacific Scout Region and an advisor to the board of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement. Edward has a degree from the NZ Broadcasting School, and a Graduate Diploma in Teaching – Secondary from Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.



Mark Cornish – Head of Finance

As Head of Finance at The Challenge, Mark is responsible for the day-to-day management and operations of our Finance team. He joined The Challenge in September 2014 from Bowel Cancer UK, where he held the position of Director of Finance and Resources before becoming Chief Operating Officer. Earlier in his career, Mark qualified as a Chartered Accountant with KPMG and subsequently joined the British Wool Marketing Board, where he rose to become the Finance Director of the main operating subsidiary.

Mark is married with 3 children and a border terrier called Tommy, and enjoys walking and sailing. He is a co-opted member of the Charity Finance Group’s finance sub-committee, is a Director of his children’s local senior school, and has a degree in Economics from Bradford University.



Mike Crowther – Regional Head of Programmes North

Mike heads up the programmes team across the Midlands and North, ensuring the high quality delivery of National Citizen Service across the region. He joined The Challenge in November 2009 with 7 years experience running residential youth work programmes across the UK and USA.

Mike lives in Leeds and has a 6 year old daughter Taylor. He loves the outdoors and enjoys cycling, running and football. Mike has a degree in Physical Education and PGCert in Sport and Exercise Science from Leeds Metropolitan University.



Tanya Dunne – Head of Customer Services

Tanya oversees The Challenge’s Customer Services team, which guides, advises and helps thousands of applicants to apply to our programmes every year from all walks of life across the UK. She joined The Challenge in November 2012 following thirteen years with the British Council, where she held information management, change consultancy, customer service, and Country Director roles, working across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Tanya has travelled to 70 countries, mainly across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and trained as a women’s self defence instructor in Disneyland Florida. She has a degree in Modern History and Politics from the University of Liverpool, a diploma in Information Science, and further qualifications in coaching and MBTI.



Oren Gershon – Head of Property & Facilities

Oren recently joined The Challenge as Head of Property & Facilities and has overall responsibility for all of our commercial leases, acquisitions and disposals. He oversees an operational team working on ensuring the buildings are a safe working environment with the infrastructure to support the organisation. He has worked in various roles in the construction and facilities areas over the past 13 years and in his previous role he was the Facilities and Project manager for a private school leading a large in house team of staff

Oren lives in Weybridge with his wife and 2 children aged 9 and 1. He is a certified member with the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) and completed his post graduate in the built environment at UCL.



Delia Gibson – Head of Operational Effectiveness

Delia heads up the Operational Effectiveness department focusing on supporting the organisation with continuous improvement to ensure it operates on firm foundations both now and in the future. She joined The Challenge in October 2015 following several years working in the private sector in a variety of roles, predominantly as a project manager and more latterly specialising in implementing operational change programs.

Delia lives in East London with her husband and she has a degree in English Literature from The University of Sheffield.



Rebecca Hick – Head of HR

Rebecca leads the HR team responsible for ensuring a full HR service to the business and the implementation of HR strategy that upholds the organisation’s mission and strategic aims.

Rebecca joined The Challenge in April 2015 after 10 years HR experience. Before joining The Challenge she worked predominantly in energy and resources, where she developed a strong generalist profile working across regions and cultures in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, America and Australasia. Her areas of expertise include talent management, employee relations, remuneration and reward, and organisational development. She has a degree in Human Resources Management & Business Law from Edith Cowan University Australia.



Emma Jenkins – Head of Development and HeadStart

Emma is responsible for the strategic development and operational management of our HeadStart programme alongside the organisation’s fundraising and development activities. She joined the Challenge in 2012 as Grants and Statutory Fundraising Manager. Prior to this, Emma managed a team of fundraising consultants at Generate Fundraising, leading on varied and inspiring fundraising campaigns, from building flagship homeless centres and children’s cancer units to raising funds to sustain local youth services. She also worked as Head of Strategy and Business Development for DHA, a legal advice and homelessness charity, where she secured funding for one of the country’s first Community Legal Advice Centres.

Emma has a degree in English Literature from the University of Leeds.



Alexis Meech – Head of Systems

Alexis is one of the founders of The Challenge and heads up the Systems department, which is responsible for creating scalable tools to support all operational aspects of the organisation. Prior to this role, Alexis headed up our Central Operations team, a role which integrated systems creation with the management of the Central Communications team. She joined the organisation following experience in the theatre production industry and at a charity – Stage One – dedicated to supporting new theatre producers.

Alexis has a degree in Philosophy from Cambridge University.



Rick Miles – Head of Step Forward Recruitment

Rick manages a team of account managers who work with third sector and private organisations and nurseries to increase takeup of professional apprentices across 5 skilled pathways including accounting, IT, business administration, working with children and social media. Rick joined The Challenge in 2011 as a temporary member of staff working on the National Citizen Service summer programme, before joining the organisation permanently as a manager in the organisation’s staffing team. Before joining The Challenge, he worked in agency recruitment for 5 years and as a teacher for a year.

Rick has a degree in Management from the University of Leicester and a PCGE from Manchester Metropolitan University.



Kirsty O’Brien – Head of Public Affairs, Campaigns and Communications

Kirsty joined The Challenge in June 2015 and heads up our Public Affairs, Communications and Campaigns team. She has worked in politics for 15 years including 8 years with the Labour Party and 4 years as Political Adviser to the Chair of the Equality & Human Rights Commission. Kirsty worked in the Number 10 Policy Unit when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister.

Kirsty has lived in London for 12 years but taxi drivers still struggle with her strong Glasgow accent. She is mum to two young boys and spends a lot of time building Lego. Kirsty has a degree in Politics from the University of Strathclyde.



Ellen Rutherford – NCS Head of Sales

Ellen oversees our engagement with the thousands of young people we sign up to the National Citizen Service every year, working as part of our national Sales Team and with our local delivery partners. She joined The Challenge in 2009 as manager of the South London and Surrey Sales Team. Prior to this, she worked for The Prince’s Foundation for Children and The Arts.

Ellen has a degree in English Literature from The University of Sheffield.



Andy Smith – Step Forward Head of Delivery

Andy leads the operational delivery of the Step Forward programme. As such, he manages training and pastoral support as well as the certification of the national recognised qualifications. He joined The Challenge in 2011 as Systems and Innovations Manager, and later took on the role of New Programmes Manager. Previously, Andy completed Teach First, qualifying as a maths teacher while working at a school in Southwark before working in the compliance team of Barclay’s Corporate. He has been leading residential youth camps for teenagers for over 10 years.

In July 2014, Andy completed his first Ironman triathlon race. He has a degree in Chemical Engineering from The University of Cambridge.



Jennie Smith – Head of Staffing

Jennie leads our staffing department, which in 2015 will recruit, assess and contract 3,500 mentors, leaders and other staff to work on the National Citizen Service with The Challenge. She joined the organisation in February 2015, having previously managed UK delivery of the International Citizens Service at Voluntary Services Overseas, placing 18-25 year olds on development programmes in Africa & Asia. Prior to this this, she was National Volunteering Manager at the homelessness charity Crisis, with responsibility for recruiting over 8,000 volunteers each year for the Crisis at Christmas project, which provides services to homeless people during the festive season. Jennie has volunteered throughout her career, and is a co-founder of Brighter Futures Zambia, a small charity which provides access to education for orphans in Zambia.

She has a degree in French from the University of Liverpool.



Chris Stansfield – Head of NCS Delivery Partnerships

Chris supports and oversees our Local Delivery Partners who are a variety of organisations who are subcontracted to work with us to deliver the NCS programme across the country. Local Delivery Partners delivery 25% of our NCS places nationally. Chris helped set up the first programme The Challenge ran in 2009 and then joined in 2011 to oversee our NCS delivery in West London. Chris has previously worked in International Development for charities working in Latin America and South Africa.

He enjoys playing touch rugby and has a degree in Mathematics and Sports Science from the University of Birmingham and a Postgraduate Certificate in Charity Management from LSBU.



Josie Whitworth – Head of Programmes and Staffing

Josie oversees the national recruitment of seasonal staff and the programme delivery of the National Citizen Service. She has worked for The Challenge since 2010 – including as Head of Programmes for the South of England and in a variety of front-line delivery roles – and co-founded the organisation’s Birmingham office. Prior to joining The Challenge, Josie worked for the National Youth Advocacy Service and Priory Psychiatric Hospital supporting programmes for at risk young people. For the last ten years she has volunteered as both a Director and Council member for ATE, an educational trust running residential holidays.

Josie has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The University of Birmingham.



  • The Challenge is the largest provider of the National Citizen Service in the UK

  • 72% of our NCS participants agreed with the statement: ‘I am more able to trust people’

  • We employ over 400 permanent staff nationally and over 3,500 seasonal staff

  • 76% of our NCS participants felt more confident about getting a job in the future

  • In 2014, 93% of HeadStart graduates felt they had improved communication skills

  • In 2014, 66% of HeadStart graduates felt they would continue volunteering after HeadStart

  • Nearly a third of young people who have heard of Step Forward rated it as their first choice when leaving school

  • In 2014, 85% of HeadStart graduates felt they better trusted people from different walks of life

  • In 2014, The Challenge collaborated with 800 community and business partners

  • In 2014, 78% of HeadStart graduates felt more connected to their community

  • 88% of our NCS participants felt they were better at working in a team

  • 94% of young people attending NCS, delivered by The Challenge in 2014, attended state schools, with 13% on free school meals

  • Step Forward received over 400 applications in its first year for just 48 places

  • 7% of those attending NCS, delivered by The Challenge in 2014, had a disability

  • In 2014, 52% of participants in NCS, delivered by The Challenge, were from a black and minority ethnic background

  • Over 30,000 16 and 17 year olds will take part in NCS delivered by The Challenge in 2015