The Challenge Leadership Team

Duncan Baldwin – Head of Procurement and Innovation

Duncan oversees two of the teams responsible for The Challenge’s delivery of NCS. The Procurement team source the outdoor activities, accommodation, transport, food and equipment used on the programme. Innovation provide a process analysis and project management function to support the other NCS departments. Duncan is also responsible for programme impact evaluation. He joined The Challenge in 2012 after working on the NCS programme.

Duncan has a background in law, fashion and professional sport. He has a degree in Modern History from the University of Oxford and a GDL from City University.



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

Edward oversees 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.



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.



Charlotte Hobson – Step Forward Head of Sales and Marketing

Charlotte leads our work in spreading the word about Step Forward to school leavers so they can take advantage of a fantastic opportunity to get their network and careers off to a flying start. She joined The Challenge as Sales and Marketing Manager for the National Citizen Service in the Midlands in 2010, after moving back to the UK from Portugal, where she had been a teacher. Before this, she worked in Market Research for Databuild Ltd. Throughout this period, Charlotte helped to run Spanish residential programmes with young people from all over the world.

Charlotte has a degree in English from the University of Sheffield.



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.



Gill Kirk-Burgess – Head of Marketing

Gill heads up our Marketing and Brand functions. She joined The Challenge in April 2015, having previously worked in marketing roles covering a broad range of sectors and topics, from telecoms to childhood obesity to investment banking. Most recently, she was Director of Marketing for The Children’s Society.

Gill is a fully qualified skydiver and is currently training for the UK National Championships. She has a degree in International Business and Languages from Sheffield Hallam University and the ESSEC Group and is about to embark on a Masters in Charity Marketing.



Alexis Meech – Head of Systems and IT

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 – Step Forward Head of Account Management

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 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 under then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

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.



Rachel Slade – Head of Programmes and Staffing

Rachel joined is responsible for leading the Programmes and Staffing departments and for the delivery of the National Citizen Service programme. She joined The Challenge in 2011 and has worked in a number of different roles within the organisation – ranging from a frontline leader working directly with young people to managing the strategic direction of the organisation’s NCS delivery.

Rachel has previously worked with two youth and community charities, Depaul UK and UnLtd, with a focus on communications, marketing and PR. Rachel has a degree from Goldsmiths College, University of London, in Anthropology and Communications.



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 – a variety of organisations who are subcontracted to assist us in delivering the NCS programme across the country. 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.



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 7 and 10. 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.



Sarita Godber – HR and Organisational Development Director

Sarita is responsible for the strategic approach that The Challenge takes to hiring and developing our excellent staff, building and maintaining our unique culture and providing and sustaining our physical working environment. She joined The Challenge in March 2015. Prior to this, Sarita spent over a decade at one of Europe’s leading Arts & Culture organisations, Southbank Centre, where she was instrumental in seeing the organisation through its major transformation programme. In her role as HR Director, she also spearheaded the development of its Volunteering, Diversity and Future Talent programmes. Before beginning her career in HR, Sarita worked in recruitment consultancy.

Outside of her professional life, and in addition to being a mother of two young children, Sarita has undertaken Trustee roles for non-profit organisations, and is currently a governor at a local primary school. She has a degree in Psychology from The University of Southampton.



Benny Goodman – NCS Director

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 External Affairs and Operations 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 youth work, 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.



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.



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.



Michelle Cummins

Michelle is Group HR Director for international waste management firm Shanks Group plc, a position which she has held since August 2012.

Michelle held a range of progressive management positions before this, including Human Resources Director in the legal and regulatory division for The Thomson Corporation in 1997. Michelle 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, most recently as Group Organisation Development Director. Michelle has a Masters in Employment Studies and Human Resource Management from London Metropolitan Business School.



Maisie Dowd

Maisie participated on NCS in 2012 when she graduated with a distinction and went on to serve as a Youth Board member for the Midlands.

She has first-hand experience of varied youth-focused organisations such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and Envision. Maisie continues to engage with young people through voluntary positions as she progresses through her study of Geology at the University of Brighton.



  • 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