Shopify’s Tobi Lütke and wife Fiona McKean pivot charitable foundation, make donations to fight COVID-19

Shopify CEO and founder Tobi Lütke and his wife Fiona McKean last year started a philanthropic organization focused on technological solutions for decarbonization. Now, the couple has pivoted their strategy to help in the fight against COVID-19.

“Thistledown is responding to the urgent need for all citizens to step up in any way they can.”

Lütke and McKean started the Thistledown Foundation last year with an initial $150 million endowment. The idea was to tackle their passion for finding “novel approaches to decarbonization” to help address climate change. In a recent statement, the couple said they have now put that mission on pause to focus on the current global pandemic.

“[Decarbonization] remains the foundation’s stated long-term goal, however, in light of the global pandemic, we knew we needed to help with Canada’s response to the virus,” the statement read. “We are fortunate that all levels of government have taken the threat seriously, but we also need all hands on deck. Thistledown is responding to the urgent need for all citizens to step up in any way they can by pivoting its team and resources.”

Thistledown is now set to focus on funding academic research projects and ways to improve the domestic supply chain for personal protective equipment (PPE). The foundation has already contributed $5 million to Fast Grants, a science-funding organization, as well as $1 million to Conquer COVID-19, a grassroots incubator that is facilitating access to PPE.

Conquer COVID-19 came together three weeks ago as a volunteer-led organization that includes members of the tech community and has also sen support from Olympian and hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser as well as actor Ryan Reynolds. The organization has already been successful in distributing PPE and support to local healthcare institutions in Ontario and has seen support from companies like Toys ‘R’ Us and Volvo Canada. Conquer COVID-19 is also now accepting monetary donations through a partnership it has established with the International Development and Relief Foundation (IDRF).

For Thistledown’s part, the foundation is looking to offer further support in the supply chain realm. McKean and Lütke noted Thistledown has been “actively working” to identify ways to remove bottlenecks or put additional supply online for life-saving medical gear. They added that future announcements will be made as those projects come online.

The couple plans to return to the climate-tech focus in the future but noted that for now, “we have a common threat that we must join together to defeat for the well-being of our global community.”

Lütke’s philanthropy and commitment to climate change have also been evident in past. Last year, the Shopify CEO pledged to donate 1,000,001 trees as part of a social media campaign that also garnered support from the likes of Elon Musk. Shopify also launched a new sustainability fund last year, donating 6.6 million CAD ($5 million USD) each year to support technologies and projects fighting climate change globally.

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Associate Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.