Shopify executive, wife challenge notion that giving back starts when you retire
Harley Finkelstein with his three-year-old daughter Bayley, his wife, Lindsay, and infant daughter Zoe, who was born by emergency C-section in February. The family is making a donation to The Ottawa Hospital Foundation in recognition of the skilled medical help they received -- and in the hopes of inspiring more people in the city to "pay it forward." Courtesy of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation
When Shopify executive Harley Finkelstein and his wife, Lindsay Taub, went to The Ottawa Hospital for the birth of their second child earlier this year, they had no reason for concern.
The birth of their first child, Bayley, had been joyous and straightforward. Besides, everyone said the second one was easier.
It didn’t work out that way.
After 12 hours of labour, the baby had still not engaged, and Taub was told she would need to have a caesarean. Taub and Finkelstein were still adjusting to that idea when their baby went into distress: The umbilical cord had wrapped around her head.
Taub was rushed into surgery for an emergency C-section with the baby’s heart rate dropping.
“It was probably the most frightening time of both of our lives,” remembers Finkelstein, Shopify’s chief operating officer.
A healthy daughter, Zoe, was born moments later.
“It happened so fast that it’s only afterwards that you can process things,” says Taub, a psychotherapist and entrepreneur.
Three days later, the family returned home, deeply grateful for the skilled medical treatment they had received.
“We went home and we reflected on it, and we asked ourselves, ‘How can we help other families that might have to deal with a difficult labour?’” says Taub.
They ultimately decided to partner with The Ottawa Hospital Foundation to design and build a special recovery room for mothers who have had a particularly difficult or complicated delivery. Finkelstein and Taub are donating $35,000 toward the project, which will in 2020 create a family room with enough space for a recovering mother, child and spouse. They’re going to help design the room and select its furniture.
The gift follows a $500,000 donation by the family earlier this year toward the establishment of a Sandy Hill synagogue and community centre.
It’s all part of a community-minded philosophy that Finkelstein and Taub have formulated: They’ve resolved that they have a responsibility to make Ottawa a better place.
“We started with the idea that we can do things, but then we realized, wait a second, we actually have a deep responsibility here to do things,” Finkelstein says.
“We’re going to live in Ottawa for the rest of our lives — we’re not from here — but if Ottawa’s going to be our home, then we have a responsibility to make this community better.
“We’re in our mid-30s so this is all very new to us.”
Finkelstein and Taub — they grew up in Montreal and met at the University of Ottawa — want philanthropy to be a regular part of their young lives: They don’t want to wait, like many people, until they’re retired to start giving back.
Finkelstein wants others to consider the same approach, and to contribute whatever they can toward building a better city.
“I’d like to change the narrative around philanthropy,” he says, “and the idea that it starts when you retire. What if everyone in Ottawa, everyone who cares about making Ottawa better, felt a responsibility to improve the city? What would that look like?”
One of Shopify’s earliest slogans, Finkelstein says, was “do things, tell people,” the idea being that one good idea could inspire more. Similarly, he hopes his family’s philanthropy will have a multiplier effect.
“If all of us could turn on our own pay-it-forward approaches, we can create something: We will have a better city, full stop,” he says.
Taub says paying it forward doesn’t always involve money. “Maybe you launch an event to raise money, maybe you volunteer your time, there’s so many different ways you can give back to the community.”
Shopify already employs more than 1,000 people in Ottawa and is continually trying to attract the world’s best and brightest. The e-commerce company intends to keep its headquarters here, Finkelstein says, which makes Ottawa a key part of its sales pitch to prospective employees.
“The city matters to us,” he says. “But if we all want to have a truly great city, we all have to contribute to it.”