Public persons with huge private financial capabilities are often linked with philanthropy. The most prominent example of this combination is the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates. With his wife Melinda Gates, they founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. To date, the foundation has contributed nearly 46 billion US-Dollars to charitable causes, e.g. to enhance healthcare, reduces extreme poverty, and expand access to educational opportunities.
Another extraordinary example is Warren Buffett, head of the multinational conglomerate holding company Berkshire Hathaway, who pledges to give 99% of his fortune to charity purposes (other billionaires as well agree to do the same).
For a long time, Bill Gates was the richest man in the world. While he is still comfortably keeping his place at the top in this elitist group, other entrepreneurs emerge and took over the crown of being the wealthiest on this planet. In 2018, based on the Forbes magazine, another man greets from the top of the list. Jeff Bezos, the man who founded Amazon, claims the title with a net worth of approximately 112 billion US-Dollar.
Besides his position as president, CEO and chairman of one of the most recognized companies in the world, Bezos built up a dense network of investment involvements. In 2013, via Nash Holdings LLC, he bought the renowned newspaper Washington Post. Under his management and after a few measures, the paper manages to be profitable again since 2016.
Other investments have proceeded through his venture capital arm Bezos Expeditions. Under this roof, Bezos invested in various companies with long-term goals. Amongst them are Blue Origin, a company with the goal to build reusable spaceship vehicles and actually competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX program, PLENTY, which offers indoor organic farming, and GRAIL, a start-up, which aims to detect cancer in an earlier curable state. He characterizes them as efforts to help earth and humankind.
To add more complexity, Bezos also invests as a private person directly in companies he believes in. He was among the first persons to believe in Google’s potential back in 1998 and also invested 37 million US-Dollar in Uber and nearly the three-fold in Airbnb (112 million US-Dollar) in 2011, respectively. On a private level, he made his biggest investment in a company with his commitment of 190 million US-Dollar in Everfi, an innovative online educational platform.
Regarding entirely non-profit or philanthropic contributions to the society, Jeff Bezos’ attempts are considered moderate. As a graduate of Princeton University, he donated 15 million US-Dollar to his alma mater. Otherwise, he frequently supported the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, to whom he donated 10 million in 2009, 20 million in 2010, 15 million in 2011 and recently 35 million US-Dollar in 2017, respectively. Other philanthropic activities as the 1 million US-Dollar donation to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the fact that he hasn’t signed the Giving Pledge (see Warren Buffett) seems to reinforce Bezos’ low priority of charitable purposes.
However, in 2017, Jeff Bezos seemed to have done a 180-degree spin in this matter: On Twitter he talked about his philanthropic strategy and – regarding the “pay-off” – a change in his usual routine: short-term instead of long-term goals. Therefore, he asked for ideas for his now-adjusted strategy.
Finally, in September 2018, Bezos Day One Fund launched – with a commitment of 2 billion US-Dollar. Bezos Day One Fund is basically split into two programs: The Day 1 Families Fund and The Day 1 Academics Fund.
Inspired by the Mary’s Place project in Seattle (“no child sleeps outside”), The Day 1 Families Fund will financially support existing non-profit organisations by issuing annual awards to these organisations and groups, which helps homeless families by providing shelter, hunger support and other measures to address the immediate needs of young families. In 2018, the fund already distributed 97.5 million US-Dollar to families in need.
The Day 1 Academics Fund focuses on developing a “network of high-quality, full-scholarship Montessori-inspired preschools in low-income communities”. To achieve this goal, the fund will build an organisation operating these preschools, which treats its children like all Amazon customer are treated: with top-class customer support.
For sure, compared to the old giants like Gates or Buffett, Jeff Bezos’ contribution to charity causes are relatively small. And the motivation for the sudden change of heart might be controversial with the issues Amazon’s reputation has as an employer as well as Bezos as a private person currently faces.
But The Day One Fund is a first step and already proves in its first days to deliver its promise to help families in need. It remains to be seen if this fund will turn out to be a straw fire or a real turnaround by the wealthiest man in the world.