Gaston says Song Foundation plans investment in Detroit


Source: Michigan News Special

Khalilah Burt Gaston

Khalilah Burt Gaston wasn’t looking to leave her boutique consulting firm, Glidepath Strategies, when Dug and Linh Song approached her to lead their fledgling philanthropy, the Song Foundation.

They spoke for five months about the position and how the $40 million foundation could impact social and economic change in Southeast Michigan. Gaston, who said his career “has always been at the intersection of social impact with a focus on equity,” accepted the job in February.

“For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to really start from scratch and create a culture,” she said. “I’m always up for a challenge. It was too good to pass up, honestly.

First-generation Americans Dug Song and his wife, Linh, established the Ann Arbor-based foundation just before the COVID pandemic hit in early 2019. Dug Song is the co-founder of Duo Security, which was sold to the giant of Cisco Systems technology for $2.35. billion in 2018. Song is Chief Strategy Officer at Cisco.

The Song Foundation has awarded $2 million in grants, about half to health care, small business, and community service groups for COVID relief in Washtenaw County, where Duo Security was founded and resides the Songs.

But it lacked a philanthropic orientation and an organizational strategy. This is where Gaston, who has worked in several philanthropic organizations, came into play.

“Essentially, we’re entering a period of intense focus on our mission, our vision and our values, and really on how to operationalize those things,” she said.

Gaston, who lives in Detroit, said the overall focus of Song Foundation grantmaking will be on southeast Michigan, including the city. Last year, the foundation provided financial support to Detroit’s Clean Slate Project, which helps city residents clear criminal convictions that hinder job, education and housing opportunities.

“We will definitely invest in Detroit,” she said.

The Songs have several “areas of action”, Gaston said, including youth organizations, cultural institutions and support for entrepreneurship.

“Our overarching goal will be to assign the innovative people in our region to really help improve the quality of life in Southeast Michigan, but also to ensure that we all live in a more just and equitable world,” a- she declared.

Originally from suburban Indianapolis, Gaston attended the University of Michigan at the same time as the Songs, even though they were unfamiliar with it. Her initial academic journey did not foreshadow the career path she eventually pursued.

Gaston received his bachelor’s degree in sports marketing and communication at UM, combining his love of athletics and business. But she also had an interest in community development, which led Gaston to earn a master’s degree in urban planning from UM’s Taubman College in 2008.

Gaston said her liberal arts background and access to UM’s global alumni network have served her well in a career that has seen her work as a program officer at the Kellogg Foundation and a development specialist. at the Land Bank Fast Track Authority of the State of Michigan.

“The education I received in college helped me adapt and pivot and ultimately be confident to take advantage of the opportunities that came my way,” she said. “People have talked about the Michigan difference. Part of that is UM’s global alum network. I only understood it after I graduated.

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