Who's Who

Dr Rita Gardner CBE FAcSS

Chief Executive
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Dr Rita Gardner CBE FAcSS is a professional geographer. She was appointed Chief Executive of the Academy of Social Sciences to succeed Stephen Anderson from 28 January 2019. Rita was previously Director of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), the UK’s learned society and professional body for geography, from 1996 to 2018. In that role, she developed and led a sustained, strategic programme of modernisation and expansion of the society, advocacy for geography, and public and policy engagement. Dr Gardner has extensive experience in advisory, trustee and committee roles, including Personal Advisor for geography to Lord Adonis (Schools Minister, Department for Children, Schools and Families); Chair, Exhibition Road Cultural Group; Non-Executive Director, British Antarctic Survey; and Member, ‘Finch’ Review Group on Open Access to Scholarly Publications. Dr Gardner pursued an early academic career in geography from 1979 to 1996 at London University after studying at Oxford University (DPhil) and UCL (BSc). Her work is recognised with three leading geography awards, five honorary degrees and a CBE for services to geography.

Nick Bibby

Director, Scottish Policy Innovation and Research Exchange (SPIRE)
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Nick is responsible for establishing and leading SPIRE, which works to develop and stregnthen links between the academic and policy communities in Scotland. He started his career in political journalism and worked more recently for the ESRC Centre on Constitutional Change and the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh.

Chizom Ekeh

Senior Communications Development Manager
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Chizom is Senior Communications Development Manager at the Academy. Prior to this she was Communications Analyst at the international development consultancy, Crown Agents, where she led on project communications for the Unicef-funded Results Based Financing for Health programme in Zimbabwe, the multi-donor funded Health Pooled Fund in South Sudan and the DFID-funded ASCEND programme which seeks to eliminate neglected tropical diseases across 12 countries in southern and eastern Africa and south Asia. Before this she was Communications Officer at the Alan Turing Institute where she supported researcher-led activities on AI ethics and law, women in STEM, and diversity and STEM. She also provided communications support for the Turing’s quarterly five-day data study groups including interviewing challenge owners and writing case studies for the website. Chizom has an MSc in Development Studies from LSE, an MA in Political Journalism from City University London and a BA in International Relations from Sussex University.

Dr Ashley Thomas Lenihan

Senior Policy Adviser
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Ashley is Senior Policy Adviser at the Academy. She is a Fellow at the Centre for International Studies at the London School of Economics, an Associate at LSE IDEAS, and has undertaken a variety of consultancy work in the international policy arena over the last ten years. She has her Ph.D. in Government, and her B.S. in Foreign Service, from Georgetown University.  She works on a range of projects for the Academy, and has led our work on Brexit and Positive Prospects.

Sharon Witherspoon MBE FAcSS

Head of Policy
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Sharon is Head of Policy at the Campaign. She was at the Nuffield Foundation, a grant-giving endowed charitable trust, for 19 years, first heading its programmes of social research and social policy, and then for three years as Director. Before that, she was a practicing social researcher at NatCen and the Policy Studies Institute, designing and analysing large-scale social surveys on various topics. She was awarded an MBE for services to social science in 2008, received the British Academy President’s Medal in 2011, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by University College London in 2015 for services to social sciences and law.