Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced yesterday that he is creating a philanthropic fund with a $2bn initial commitment to help homeless families and launch preschools in low-income communities.
The world’s richest individual made the announcement on Twitter a year after asking for ideas on how he could use his personal fortune – now estimated at some $163bn – for charitable efforts.
The “Bezos Day One Fund” created by Bezos and his wife MacKenzie will focus on two areas – helping “existing nonprofits that help homeless families” and funding “a network of new, nonprofit, tier-one preschools in low-income communities”, he wrote.
For the homeless, grants will be given to organisations “doing compassionate, needle-moving work to provide shelter and hunger support to address the needs of young families”, Bezos said.
The fund will also seek to launch and operate “a network of high-quality, full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in under-served communities”, he wrote. “We will build an organisation to directly operate these schools.”
Bezos said that the schools would “use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon” and that “the child will be the customer”.
The $2bn initiative, while significant, is far less than the philanthropic efforts of other billionaires including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, who has donated tens of billions to his foundation, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who has pledged to donate 99% of his shares in the social media giant to an organisation focused on public good.
It also falls short of the “giving pledge” initiative launched by Gates and billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who have encouraged wealthy individuals to pledge half their fortunes for philanthropy.
Bezos’s fortune comes mainly from his stake in Amazon, the diversified online firm which briefly hit $1tn in market value this month and is the second most valuable company after Apple.
He also operates the private space exploration firm Blue Origin and owns the Washington Post newspaper.
Despite his fortune, Bezos has not been a major philanthropic donor and Amazon has been criticised in its home of Seattle, Washington, for doing little to address problems of the growing homeless population.
Last year, he donated $33mn to fund scholarship for “dreamers”, the name given to undocumented children of immigrants who face legal obstacles in attending college or university.
He has also made donations for cancer research and to Princeton University, his alma mater.
Bezos’s personal wealth has soared with the value of Amazon, whose stock price has doubled over the past year with its expansion into new sectors and geographies.
Launched in 1994 as an online bookseller, Amazon has become a retail powerhouse operating globally, and has expanded into streaming video, music, cloud computing and other segments, and last year acquired the Whole Foods grocery chain.
According to the research firm eMarketer, Amazon’s e-commerce revenue will grow more than 28% this year to reach $394bn, and will account for 49% of US online retail sales and nearly 5% of all retail spending.
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