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 Directors Team

Oliver Lee OBE – Chief Executive

Oliver is responsible for the executive leadership of The Challenge. He joined the organisation in 2014 following twenty years in the Royal Marines, serving in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, including in command of the coalition forces in Nad-e-Ali District, Helmand Province. He also worked on the personal staffs of the Chief of Defence Staff and Ministers. His final military job was as a colonel, leading one of the courses at the UK’s Defence Academy.

Oliver is married with two sons aged 11 and 8. He has a degree in geography from Jesus College, Cambridge.



Rebecca Carter – Strategy and Operational Effectiveness Director

Rebecca leads on The Challenge’s strategic direction, longer-term plans and corporate branding as well as organisation-wide projects that increase our effectiveness and efficiency. She joined the organisation in September 2012 following nine years in the pharmaceutical industry with Bristol Myers Squibb, where she held sales and marketing and scientific communication positions at both the national (in the UK, Belgium and Netherlands) and pan-European level. Rebecca has also worked in strategy and finance with the management consultancy Marakon Associates, where she worked with a variety of clients in the UK, Switzerland and the US.

Rebecca has a degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Manchester, a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Cambridge, and an MBA from London Business School.



Karen Forde – HR and Organisational Development Director

Karen is the Director for HR and Organisational Development and joined the Challenge in March 2016. This is a relatively new Directorship which is focused on strengthening all elements of our employee proposition. Prior to joining the Challenge Karen worked in Food and Automotive retail.

Karen lives near Colchester and when she isn’t working she enjoys keeping herself fit and watching live football with her husband.



Benny Goodman – Director of NCS

Benny is one of the founders of The Challenge and is the organisation’s Director of Operations, leading the front-line delivery of the National Citizen Service programme through the Staffing and Programmes departments. Previously he was responsible for the Sales and Marketing team – a role he had held since the start of The Challenge.

Benny joined The Challenge during the R&D; phase in December 2008 from Deloitte, where he had qualified as a Chartered Accountant working within the Enterprise Risk Services group. Benny was keen to return to the non-profit sector, having spent a year in Hong Kong with Crossroads International, a fast-growing charity who re-distribute quality superseded goods globally to those in need. Prior to his work with The Challenge, Benny was also involved in leading various residential programmes for young people, giving him insight into the significant benefits of such opportunities.

Benny is married to Claire, has three children under 5, and is normally tired by the end of the weekend. He has a degree in Engineering Science from the University of Oxford.



Rob Ovens – Chief Financial Officer

Rob is responsible for the financial management of The Challenge. He joined the organisation in March 2012 following a successful career in the media industry. Rob qualified as a Chartered Accountant with city firm FW Stephens & Co. and subsequently moved to London Weekend Television where he rose to Director of Finance. He moved to Granada Sky Broadcasting as Finance Director before becoming Chief Operating Officer and was appointed Managing Director in 2003.

In 2006, he relocated to Dubai and was appointed Senior Vice President of Finance for Showtime Arabia, the leading pay TV operator in the Middle East, before returning in 2009 to establish JRM Media, a media investment company.

Rob is married and has two grown up children. He is a big rugby fan and can often be found watching Harlequins with a pint of beer. Rob is also a trustee and treasurer of Tourettes Action. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.



Jon Yates – External Affairs and Operations Director

Jon leads our Strategy and Development team which oversees the delivery of HeadStart, Step Forward and our Public Affairs work. He is one of the founders of The Challenge, designed the original NCS curriculum and led the NCS Operations team for 4 years. Prior to working for The Challenge, Jon first moved to London to start a career as a stand-up comedian but instead found himself building a rather atypical career in youthwork, management consultancy, community work and international development including time at the Acumen Fund, Tearfund, and McKinsey & Company.

Jon lives in south-west London with his wife and three children. He has a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford.



Board of Trustees

Colin Smith OBE

Colin chairs our Board, which meets every two months, is the chair of the Nominations Committee, and has a breadth of experience in the retail sector.

Until recently, Colin was Chairman of Poundland Group Holdings, Europe’s largest single price discount retailer. Prior to this, Colin was Chief Executive and Finance Director of Safeway Plc, the supermarket retailer. Colin also has previous experience in the not for profit sector as a trustee of Save The Children and as Chairman of the food industry sponsored Red Tractor assurance scheme.



Paul Armstrong

Paul works in private equity, chairs the Board’s Remuneration committee, and is a Trustee and Investment Committee member of the Social Business Trust, the social enterprise fund.

Paul supported and advised ‘Speaking Up’ during their successful merger with Advocacy Partners and worked with the management of the merged entity to facilitate their operational and financial integration and create a long-term strategic plan for the new organisation. Paul is currently a Principal at Permira, the European private equity firm, which he joined in 2007. Prior to this, Paul worked for 8 years as a solicitor at the European law firm Ashurst and, subsequently, at Fried Frank – a leading Wall St firm. Paul gained his PGDiP Law at the College of Law London, where he was the Eidos Scholar.



Jenny Ashmore

Jenny has spent her career in marketing and is President of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and Chair of the Girlguiding Trading Services.

Jenny held senior marketing positions in Procter & Gamble, Mars, Yell Group and SSE and now consults and advises organisations on marketing and strategy challenges. Her Non-Executive roles also include NED roles for Commonwealth Games, England and Saffron Building Society.



Michelle Cummins

Michelle is Group HR Director at QinetiQ, experts in defence, aerospace and security, a position which she has held since March 2016.

Prior to this role Michelle was Group HR Director for international waste management firm Shanks Group plc, a position which she held for 4 years. Michelle has held a range of progressive management positions before being appointed as Human Resources Director in the legal and regulatory division for The Thomson Corporation in 1997. Michelle then spent four years as Human Resources Director at BAE Systems, initially in their Customer Solutions and Support Naval division and then for their Land Systems division. In 2006, she joined Inchcape plc where she held a number of senior international HR Director positions based in the UK and Russia before being appointed Group Organisation Development Director.

Michelle has a Masters in Employment Studies and Human Resource Management from London Metropolitan Business School.



Martin Doel CBE

Martin Doel is Chief Executive of Association of Colleges (AoC), having taken up this role in 2008, after a successful career in the Royal Air Force. In April 2016, Martin was appointed as the first Professor of Further Education and Skills at University College London (Institute of Education). From April until September 2016, Martin will combine his professorial role with his AoC responsibilities before moving fully to the UCL(IOE) role in September and standing down at AoC.

Martin has recently been awarded a CBE in the Queen’s New Year 2016 Honours List in recognition of service to further education. Whilst in the RAF, his final role was as Director of Training and Education for all three Armed Services, working in the Ministry of Defence, the largest employer of apprentices in the UK. Prior to this he filled several operational support, personnel and training posts in the RAF, including service as the equivalent of a Director of Studies at the Joint Services Command and Staff College providing post-graduate level education to officers. He was appointed OBE in 1998 for his work in support of operations in the Balkans and for his contribution to Anglo-German relations.

He holds a Masters Degree with Distinction from King’s College, London, and a First Class Honours Degree in Education from King Alfred’s College, Winchester.

Martin is also a Trustee of the Royal London Society for the Blind, a member of the Skills Funding Agency Audit Committee, a member of the Apprenticeship Reform Stakeholder Board and British Council Education Advisory Board, and on a number of other policy consultative boards and committees.



Dan Guthrie

Dan has over 15 years of experience in Public Relations and recently acted as a Commissioner on the Social Integration Commission.

Dan has worked in both the UK and Canadian Parliaments and is a director of the public relations firm Luther Pendragon, which he also co-owns. He has worked with a range of multi-national companies and third sector organisations to enhance their reputations and deliver positive change.



Richard Wilson

Richard has specialist experience in Financial auditing and chairs the Board’s Audit and Risk committee.

He is a senior partner with Ernst and Young with significant experience of working with companies ranging from large multinational groups to privately owned companies. He has over 25 years of experience of providing assurance and advisory services with clients such as BP, BA and Royal Mail. Richard is also a Treasurer and Trustee of Victim Support, a charity which supports victims of crime.



  • 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