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.



  • 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