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Jeff Bezos to announce his philanthropy plans this summer


Jeff Bezos at the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.

Mike Coppola/VF17, Getty Images

One year ago tomorrow, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos tweeted a request for philanthropy ideas from the public, saying he wanted to find ways to give that provided an immediate impact.

That tweet got about 49,000 responses.

Tonight, Bezos, now the world’s richest person, offered a quick update on his plans. He tweeted that he “settled on two areas” and will announce what they are by the end of the summer.

“If I’m lucky, I may be able to announce some hiring then too,” he wrote.

While the tweet is light on details, it should spark considerable interest, especially in the philanthropy world, because of Bezos’ enormous wealth as well as his prior lack of major giving so far.

Unlike fellow billionaires Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett, Bezos today isn’t a big name in philanthropy, and the pressure he faces to give are likely increasing as his fortune continues to balloon. Last year around this time, he was the world’s second-richest person and worth $83.7 billion. Today, thanks to his 16 percent ownership in Amazon, he’s now the richest person worldwide and is worth $141 billion.

Although most of that money is tied up in stock, it could still make a huge impact when Bezos finally decides to start giving more of it away.

“You have to imagine he will be every bit as philanthropic as Gates. Nobody has any right to make demands, and they have to give the guy time,” Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, told Bloomberg in October.

Since his tweet last June, Bezos made one donation that garnered plenty of headlines, giving $33 million in January for college scholarships to so-called “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children.

He’s previously  made donations for health research, science and immigration, according to Inside Philanthropy, including gifts to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. In 2011, Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, donated $15 million to Princeton University, their alma mater, to create the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics, which develops new techniques to study brain function.

Bezos also sells $1 billion in Amazon stock every year, but uses that money to fund his private space exploration company Blue Origin.

Bezos’ parents run the Bezos Family Foundation, which regularly donates to causes including medical research and education.

“Bezos is only in his 50s and very much engaged in business but should be watched for greater giving down the line,” Inside Philanthropy wrote, adding that his parents’ foundation could offer clues to what future donations Bezos makes in the future.

Amazon, too, has started to step up its charitable work in its hometown of Seattle, after generally steering clear of such work in the past. It’s worked with the Mary’s Place, providing the nonprofit with a permanent homeless shelter in one of Amazon’s buildings. In 2013, it also started AmazonSmile, which donates a portion of retail sales to charity.

Meanwhile, Gates has used the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to give away billions of dollars, and Mark Zuckerberg and his wife started the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Buffett has donated large portions of his money to the Gates Foundation, as well.

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