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Jeff Bezos is world’s richest person, could redefine philanthropy


jeff bezos
As the world’s richest
person, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos could transform how philanthropy
works.

David Ryder/Getty
Images


  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is now far ahead Bill Gates as
    the world’s richest person.
  • With a net worth of $105 billion, Bezos is likely to
    retain the title for the foreseeable future, and it could upend
    how billionaires view charity.
  • Unlike Bill Gates, who has focused on long-term
    projects, Bezos could focus more on the short-term.

A year-long surge in Amazon stock has
now increased CEO Jeff Bezos’ net worth
to more than $105
billion, making him far and away the world’s richest person.

Bezos displaced Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, whose net
worth is $93.3 billion according to Bloomberg
data
, and the new distinction could fuel his interest in
furthering human progress through for-profit companies — efforts
that could shift how the world’s wealthiest think about
philanthropy.

“I think his activities to date suggest he looks at some of his
business investments as opportunities to advance social change,”
Jane Wales, CEO of the Global Philanthropy
Forum
, told Business Insider.


Amazon’s agreement to buy Whole Foods
, announced in June of
2017, initially sent the online retailer’s stock skyrocketing. It
also increased Bezos’ net worth by $1.8 billion, to $84.6
billion. At the time, that was
$5 billion
behind Gates. His net worth
briefly eclipsed
Gates’ in July, after the second-quarter
earnings were released.

Bezos’ plan for business investments to double as forms of social
change was evident in his buying The Washington Post in 2013. He

quickly turned it
into a lean, digital journalism powerhouse
— something other large news organizations have struggled to do.
Similarly, the Whole Foods purchase may hint at Bezos’ desire to
reinvent the food industry’s supply chain. (At the very least, he

has the opportunity
to do so.)

Wales says Bezos’ business plays offer a window into how he could
cement his status as one of the most influential players in the
philanthropy world, independent of the Bezos Family
Foundation
that’s run by his parents. In fact, Bezos may
already be looking to take on more projects. Recently, he

asked his nearly 300,000 Twitter followers
for ways to
generate a lasting impact with quick, decisive action.

“I’m thinking about a philanthropy strategy that is the opposite
of how I mostly spend my time — working on the long term,” Bezos
wrote. “For philanthropy, I find I’m drawn to the opposite end of
the spectrum: the right now.”

That approach could encourage more short-term solutions to
problems typically thought of as systemic, Wales said, and that
could be a good thing. She pointed to the ongoing migrant crisis
as one example.

“That requires action now. Governments are overwhelmed, and
policy is not solving it,” Wales said. “The Bezos Family
Foundation, which is mostly long-term in its thinking, is also
giving to the International Rescue Committee, to Save the
Children, to CARE — to organizations that address the immediate
as well as the long term.”


jeff bezos
Bezos and his wife,
MacKenzie Bezos.

Danny
Moloshok/Reuters


Other billionaires, on the other hand, are sticking to
big-picture work. Bill and Melinda Gates
are trying to end polio
once and for all, and Mark Zuckerberg
and Priscilla Chan are trying to
eradicate disease and improve education
.

But Bezos is new to the philanthropy world —
he isn’t involved
with his parents’ foundation — and people
just starting out in the field often take a year or two to get
the lay of the land and form a strategy. Judging by Bezos’ past
business moves, his style of philanthropy might involve private
investments in startups looking to do social good, or
acquisitions of other companies.


Warren Buffet Bill Gates
Bill
Gates and his longtime friend Warren Buffett.


Rick
Wilking/Reuters



Not everyone in the philanthropy community is optimistic about
Bezos’ influence, however.

Larry Brilliant, the acting chairman of the Skoll Global Threats
Fund, criticized Bezos’ crowdsourcing approach.

“The denominator of ideas you will get in, the vast majority of
ideas which are not good, not viable, will flood this process,”
Brilliant
told The New York Times
in June.

And in a
recent open letter
to Bezos in Forbes, the philanthropy
adviser Jake Hayman took issue with the notion that focusing on
short-term goals can yield lasting impact.

“It’s the business equivalent of looking for ‘safe, proven
investments’ with imminent 10-fold returns,” Hayman wrote. “It
doesn’t happen.”

Bezos is not participating in The Giving Pledge, a pact among
16 billionaires (including Warren Buffett and Zuckerberg) to give
away at least half of their fortunes before they die. But Wales
contends that Bezos still can send a strong signal to wealthy
Silicon Valley types that philanthropy matters.

“He is young, he is in the midst of his career, and he’s already
seen as bold,” she said. “What that tweet says to me is: ‘I do
not want to ignore today’s problems.'”


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