5 Questions With LiveWell’s New President & CEO, Gabriel Guillaume

We recently announced that Shepard Nevel, President and CEO of LiveWell Colorado, has accepted a position as President and CEO of Jewish Family Service of Colorado, and Gabriel Guillaume will take the helm as President and CEO of LiveWell Colorado in November. Gabriel has been a core member of LiveWell since 2010. He is currently the Executive Vice President of Local Initiatives and Strategy, and he served as interim CEO from October 2013 to August 2014.

Throughout his career, Gabriel has worked with nonprofits, community groups, government agencies and the private sector around critical social issues such as affordable housing, health, and economic equity. For the past six years, he has increased LiveWell’s impact in communities and schools across the state and elevated the organization’s understanding of the many barriers to healthy eating and active living, particularly for those who face significant obstacles due to economic, racial, and educational inequities.

As President and CEO, Gabriel will be responsible for leading the strategic direction and operational efforts of LiveWell Colorado. We sat down with Gabriel to learn more about his inspirations and aspirations for this work.

Q: What drew you to the nonprofit sector and equity work, and what led you to work with LiveWell Colorado?

I was brought up in a family environment where politics—and its impact on people who have less than others—was a regular topic of conversation. That, combined with living in Costa Rica when I was 13 years old and witnessing the harsh economic disparities there, really affected me. I realized that extreme socioeconomic inequity is a human condition that I could not accept. When I heard about the Vice President of Community Investments position at LiveWell I was at a point in my career where I really wanted to focus on a single issue like health. I accepted the position because I knew it was a great opportunity to work on a critical statewide issue at an organization with the resources to make substantial, systems-level change.

Q: What are some of the biggest successes and challenges you’ve experienced in your 6+ years at LiveWell?

There have been many successes over the years, but what has always stood out for me are the many real policy changes we’ve helped catalyze through millions of dollars granted to over 30 communities in Colorado.

One of the biggest challenges has been trying to do issue-based work in a place-based (community) environment. LiveWell is an issue-based (Healthy Eating & Active Living, or HEAL) organization, but the program I was in charge of (Community Investments) was really place-based. This created tension because naturally when we went into communities of color and with poverty, obesity and HEAL were not the top of residents’ lists.

While this is still a challenge that LiveWell faces, the difference now is that rather than coming into community trying to rally people around obesity, we are going to connect with community leaders who have already defined certain issues as important—like food insecurity, safe walking and biking, healthy kids, and healthy schools—and partner with them to advance their interest in their community and inform what our work will be at the state level. So we will spend more time in communities, but our role will be one of convening, listening, and building relationships, as opposed to implementing unrelated programs. To do this we will strive to move away from community partnerships as a program, and toward having community partnerships as our culture at LiveWell.

Q: As you step into the CEO role, what’s at the top of your mind as far as organizational priorities and vision moving forward?

First and foremost, we need to work on clarifying and making relevant the strategic direction of the organization, and how to structure our assets around that to be successful. Another top priority is to clarify and strengthen our commitment to health equity. We need to improve our awareness, compassion and outreach so as to be effective in lifting barriers to healthy choices by understanding the root causes to those barriers. Finally, like most nonprofits, we need to diversify our funding.

Ultimately we must continue to build on our existing strengths so we can do what we already do well, better. My vision is for LiveWell to be a leaner, more efficient and integrated organization where our community relationships, programs, policy, and communications components all work together to achieve a common goal.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

My approach to leadership has three main elements:

  • Clarity – Be consistent about what success looks like and be very good at clearly communicating that.
  • Action – Although hardly an original concept, I believe leadership is a verb, not a noun. Leaders should use action to unify the actions of others and therefore contribute positive energy to the organization, its work, and its constituency.
  • Values – Demonstrate compassion, transparency, and a commitment to equity.
    • Compassion – Be compassionate toward ourselves, each other, and the people we’re here to serve.
    • Transparency – I want people to be open, authentic, and clear with me–and I am committed to doing the same with others.
    • Equity – I believe that all of us have rights, the extreme inequities among people are unacceptable, and it is our job as people to try to create a more balanced, equitable world.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy spending time with my wife, Sara, and our two incredible kids, Grace (5) and Evan (2). I also enjoy biking and am an avid Broncos fan.