Amazon.com Inc. AMZN -0.01% Chief Executive Jeff Bezos plans to commit an initial $2 billion to fund a new charitable organization dedicated to helping the homeless and educating preschoolers.
Th 54-year-old entrepreneur and his wife, MacKenzie, will form the Bezos Day One Fund to support existing nonprofit organizations that help homeless families and create a new nonprofit network of Montessori-inspired preschools in low-income communities. Day One is a favorite term of Mr. Bezos’, referring in part to having his company adhere to a startup mentality.
Mr. Bezos wrote in a tweet that it is human nature to continuously seek ways to improve things, something the previous generations succeeded to do. “If our own great grandchildren don’t have lives better than ours, something has gone very wrong,” he added.
In January, the Bezoses, who have four children, granted $33 million in college scholarships for undocumented immigrant high-school graduates in the U.S. Last week, they made their first major foray into politics, contributing $10 million to a super PAC that aims to elect military veterans to Congress.
Mr. Bezos’ increase in charitable giving comes as Amazon has faced criticism over the wages it pays to warehouse workers and broader societal effects tied to the e-commerce giant, for example, driving up property prices in its hometown of Seattle.
Seattle recently tried to enact a tax to force the company to help with the city’s growing homeless problem, though the decision was later reversed. And Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill aimed at taxing big companies whose employees rely on federal benefits to make ends meet, specifically targeting Mr. Bezos by contrasting his vast personal wealth with the compensation of the companies’ lowest-paid workers.
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Mr. Bezos, who founded Amazon in his garage in 1994, has seen his net worth skyrocket over the past few years as his company has grown. He became the world’s wealthiest person last year, surpassing Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates his current net value at roughly $164 billion.
Mr. Bezos owns about 16% of Amazon, according to an August regulatory filing. The company last week became the second U.S. company to reach a $1 trillion in market value.
Mr. Bezos’ initial Day One Fund commitment is small compared with the pledges of some other wealthy donors. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, established by Mr. Gates and his wife in part to fight diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, received $35.8 billion from the couple between 1994 and 2017.
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman Warren Buffett said in 2006 he planned to give away the bulk of his fortune to the Gates Foundation, a gift at the time valued at more than $30 billion.
Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, said in December 2015 that over the course of their lives they would give away 99% of their Facebook shares, at the time valued at $45 billion.
The initial $2 billion committed by the Bezoses is a starting point, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Mr. Bezos in June 2017 tweeted a request for ideas for charitable giving, saying he was drawn to “the right now,” rather than the long-term focus of most his professional work.
“I like long-term—it’s a huge lever: Blue Origin, Amazon, Washington Post —all of these are contributing to society and civilization in their own ways,” Mr. Bezos wrote in the tweet. “But I’m thinking I want much of my philanthropic activity to be helping people in the here and now—short term—at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.”
The Amazon CEO also owns the Washington Post—an institution that bolsters democracy, Mr. Bezos said Thursday—and Blue Origin LLC, a company he founded a decade ago to make reusable rockets a reality and to lower launch costs. Mr. Bezos has said he sells about a billion dollars of Amazon stock annually to invest in his rocket company.
Mr. Bezos has previously said he believes one of his major contributions to society will be from his backing of space exploration. That sentiment was echoed in his tweet Thursday, which highlighted his “investment in the future of our planet and civilization through the development of foundational space infrastructure.”
Write to Laura Stevens at [email protected]