In his latest philanthropy initiative, Jeff Bezos just announced he’ll be pledging $10 billion to combat climate change. For the world’s wealthiest man, this will equate to roughly 7.7% of his almost $130 billion net worth. To put it in perspective, Bezos’s contribution will be the second-largest donation of the 21st century.
“Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet,” the Amazon CEO said in an Instagram post. “I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share.”
Bezos’s contribution is dubbed the Earth Fund. Starting this summer, grants will be issued to scientists, environmental activists, and NGOs.
To say Bezos’s contribution is generous would be an understatement. But, his charitable gift came as a surprise to many. Why is that?
In the Past, Jeff Bezos Dedicated a Relatively Small Amount to Philanthropy
In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2016, Rose asked if Bezos planned to pursue the same type of philanthropy as Bill Gates.
“Well yeah,” he said. “If there’s anything left after I finish building Blue Origin.”
While reflecting upon Bezos’ past philanthropic efforts, it’s clear the list is fairly short. According to the New York Times, when it comes to money, Bezos often funnels it all towards Amazon, or his other “private ventures” like rocket company Blue Origin or The Washington Post (both of which he owns). The news site also reported that only 1% of Jeff Bezos’s wealth went to philanthropy in 2017.
Pressure for Bezos to give more to charity has amplified significantly as he continues acquiring more money. Just last month, Bezos faced a fury of criticism after donating $690,000 towards recovery efforts in Australia.
Given that in 2018, Bezos’s wealth swelled by $690,000 every 5 minutes, many believed this contribution wasn’t enough.
It’s also notable that Bezos still has not signed the Giving Pledge. This makes him the only American of the five wealthiest people in the world not to sign. Pledgers commit to donating more than half their wealth during their lifetime or in their will. Bezos’s ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, is among those participating.
Jeff Bezos: His Laissez-faire Approach to Philanthropy
In response to all this recent criticism, Bezos has begun taking on more charitable projects. Some examples include his $33 million donation towards scholarships for Dreamers, along with his $35 million contribution to Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
One of his most generous ventures began in 2018 when Bezos unveiled the Day One Fund. Jeff Bezos dedicated this $2 billion pledge to opening preschools in “underserved” communities and helping homeless families. For the initiative, Bezos sent $100 million towards non-profit organizations aimed at ending family homelessness.
Traditionally, most philanthropists like taking reign with their projects. They are typically strict with how they allocate funds and demand frequent updates. Surprisingly, Bezos has instead been very hands-off when it comes to charity.
Recode found that he’s only requiring updates once per year, therefore requesting little to no oversight. Also, the non-profit organizations’ annual report doesn’t need to adhere to a rubric.
Recode says this essentially means non-profit organizations can “create their own accountability” by sending him “whatever type of update they want.” There are no specifications in place as to how funds should be spent, so long as the non-profit organizations support his broad goal of fighting homelessness.
When seeking grant recipients, usually foundations will publicly announce grants and require applications. But apparently, the Day One Fund recruited an advisory board of eight homelessness experts and had them compile a shortlist of non-profit organizations Bezos was already interested in.
Then, staffers cold-called those organizations. And for the application, non-profit organizations mainly just had to answer a 500-word essay detailing how they’d use the money to help end family homelessness.
Jeff Bezos Will Put the Earth Fund Solely Towards Non-Profit Efforts
Although there are obvious benefits of Bezos’s laissez-faire approach for recipients, there could also be dangers, too. For his Day One Fund, Recode reported that the recipients these giant grants could still fail without proper monitoring from the foundation.
“There [are] a lot of mishaps, a lot of problems, that can occur if there’s not adequate oversight,” Daniel Borochoff, Head of CharityWatch, told Recode. “If someone was stealing from an Amazon warehouse, I’m sure his people would be all over it. But if people were stealing from the shelter pantry, the mission-focused charity staff and volunteers might not.”
Theodore Schleifer, who wrote the story, compared Bezos’s Day One Fund to his Earth Fund announcement. “If past is prologue, expect Jeff Bezos to be extremely—almost weirdly—hands-off with this $10 billion,” Schleifer tweeted.
Schleifer also added Bezos tended to regard his work with Blue Origin — which Bezos called his “most important work” — as philanthropic, even though it is a for-profit company.
However, Schleifer reported that all $10 billion of the Earth Fund will be donated to charities. So, money won’t be channeled towards for-profit work or private investments (which excludes Blue Origin).
$10 Billion Philanthropy Effort Doesn’t Prevent Critical Feedback and Skepticism
Though the Earth Fund just became the second-largest charitable gift in history, the philanthropy effort has not come without critics.
But despite the critical feedback for the Earth Fund, $10 billion does have the potential to do a whole lot of good for the planet.
Hopefully, the managers of the money deployed it effectively and Jeff Bezos’s philanthropy will spark an upward trend for more giving in the future towards tackling climate change.