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When $2 billion is a pittance

Bezos. Photo: Brent Lewis/Denver Post/Getty

For centuries, business titans have risen in acts of ruthlessness, then washed their reputations in shows of charity, endowing monuments like libraries (Carnegie), museums (Getty), universities (Rockefeller) and plain-old philanthropies (Ford).

Not Jeff Bezos. For now, the Amazon kingpin says he plans to donate a tiny part of his $160 billion fortune, and continue to do business with the rest.

Between the lines: Yesterday, Bezos announced The Day One Fund, committing $2 billion — or 1.25% of his fortune — to family homeless shelters and Montessori-style preschools in underserved communities, or 0.01% of his fortune.

  • By comparison, Bill Gates has endowed the foundation he shares with his wife Melinda with $50 billion. Warren Buffett has donated $34 billion since 2006, and plans to give away his whole fortune, and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has committed $45 billion.

The big picture: Bezos explains that he is seeking long-term impact through ventures like his space exploration company.

"I'm going to give away a lot of money in a non-profit model, but I'm also going to invest a lot of money in something that most investors might say is a terrible investment — like Blue Origin — but that I think is important."
— Bezos in Washington, DC, last night

"For the first time in history, we're big compared to the face of the planet," Bezos said. We have two choices as humans, he said: stop growing now, and keep population and energy consumption constant, or move into the solar system.

  • Bezos likes option No. 2. And he dreams of his company being the one to get us there.

Maybe Blue Origin won't be profitable, and he will turn it into a non-profit, Bezos said. But he hopes it will make a killing.

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