Jeff Bezos pledges $2Bn to build preschools, shelter for homeless
Jeff Bezos, the billionaire Amazon founder who for years kept mostly mum about his philanthropic vision, at long last outlined how he plans to give away a portion of the world’s largest personal fortune.
In a Thursday tweet and an address before 1,000-plus people in Washington, D.C., Bezos pledged $2 billion of his fortune toward preschool programs in low-income communities and providing food and shelter for homeless families.
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) 1536850806000
Bezos will hire an executive team to run those preschools as a nonprofit group, while the money to fight homelessness will mostly go to existing shelters. Amazon’s founder expanded on the pledge announced early Thursday — his largest philanthropic push yet — in an interview Thursday night with David Rubenstein, co-chairman of the Carlyle Group and host of ‘The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations’ on Bloomberg Television.
The crowd at the Economic Club of Washington event included Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who’re both trying to snag Amazon’s second North American headquarters. The project promises 50,000 jobs over the next two decades. Bezos offered no hint of his leanings in the interview but said the company will announce a location this year.
The interview shed new details on Bezos’s philanthropic push, which was devised with his wife MacKenzie and will include building and operating a network of “Montessori-like” preschools to help prevent low-income family children from falling behind in their education.
“If a kid falls behind, it’s really hard to catch up,” Bezos said, speaking about his own childhood that included preschool and a teacher who said he was so focused on tasks she had to move his chair to get him to start a new project.
The pledge catapults the world’s richest person into a rarefied group of billionaire mega-donors at a time his company faces growing scrutiny over its rising power and impact on the economy. Bezos said all large institutions are subject to scrutiny and he doesn’t see it as a threat to his business.
With a personal fortune of almost $164 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the Amazon chief executive officer had been largely invisible in the world of philanthropy.
His net worth has risen about $65 billion this year alone as Amazon’s shares surged. That relative silence stood in stark contrast to peers like Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, whose foundation is the world’s largest, and Warren Buffett, who’s vowed to give away the majority of his wealth.
Last year, Bezos solicited advice from the public via Twitter, asking how he could best use his wealth to help people “right now.” The 54-year-old CEO said his team curated more than 47,000 responses and homelessness and education emerged as issues important to large numbers of people, including himself.
Until now, the Bezos Family Foundation, best known for supporting children’s education, has been largely funded by his parents from Amazon holdings they acquired as early investors in their son’s enterprise. Outside of that, Bezos and his family’s known donations have included gifts to Princeton University and Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Bezos said he plans to give away “a lot of money” to nonprofits but will also invest in Blue Origin, his space exploration company working on making rockets that can be reused like airplanes to lower the cost of space travel.
He has a home in the capital, owns the Washington Post and Amazon has significantly increased its lobbying presence there. Bezos and his company are frequent targets of criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump and, more recently, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who’s made the billionaire a symbol of income inequality when pushing for better wages for workers and fewer government benefits for companies.
Bezos declined to discuss his conversations with Trump and said he doesn’t feel the need to defend his company from attacks. However, he said it is dangerous for politicians to “demonize the media.”
“There has never been an elected official or public figure who has ever liked their headlines,” he said. “You’re going to get scrutinized. It’s healthy.”