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Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance via Getty Images

The extremely rich tend to think very highly of themselves, and of their ability to bend the world to their will. So when they start giving their money away, they tend to retain maximum control.

Why it matters: MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is worth about $60 billion. She pledged to give away substantially all of that money after she gained autonomy over her own wealth. Judging by her first 116 grants, she's doing so in a refreshingly radical — and humble — manner.

What's new: Alms for the needy was the starter charity. It was succeeded by professionalized philanthropy — a baroque edifice of foundations and perpetuities and strategies and naming rights and social impact metrics.

  • Scott's giving suggests a new model, one more focused on the value of giving itself, and where the giver does not try to influence the actions of the grant recipients.

What they're saying: "People who have experience with inequities are the ones best equipped to design solutions," writes Scott.

  • In practice what that means is that she trusts them to know what best to do with her money, instead of doling it out only within a complex framework of grant proposals and quarterly reports and two-year re-evaluations.

How it works: When Scott chooses a cause, she just gives them cash. No schedules, no promises, no strings. (Jack Dorsey's #startsmall initiative is similar, if smaller.)

By the numbers: Scott has given $587 million to racial equity organizations, 91% of which are run by leaders of color. $46 million went to LGBTQ+ equity organizations all of which are run by LGBTQ+ leaders.

  • She gave $133 million to gender equity organizations, 83% of which are run by women.

The philanthro-industrial complex did help: Scott was advised in her giving by Bridgespan Group, one of the largest big-philanthropy advisors. But their job was clearly just to identify worthy recipients — and then get out of the way.

Between the lines: The easy way to give away hundreds of millions or billions of dollars is to funnel the cash into architecture or endowments, rather than trying to get it directly to those who need it. Scott has avoided that.

  • "There has been too much emphasis on thinking about the future," says Benjamin Soskis, a philanthropy researcher at the Urban Institute. Scott's giving, instead, is based in "respect for people who are doing the work." And that feels new.

Yes, but: Scott is only getting started in her philanthropy, and the $1.7 billion she's given away so far is extremely impressive. Still, her net worth has managed to increase by $25 billion this year alone, thanks to the rise in Amazon's share price.

The bottom line: If Scott is truly determined to give away all her wealth, she's going to have to speed up her rate of disbursement significantly.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Nov 4, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Filling in the blanks on where Jeff Bezos' $10 billion climate fund is going

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Atlantic has begun solving a big mystery in climate advocacy circles — how Jeff Bezos will spread around money from the $10 billion "Bezos Earth Fund" announced in February.

Why it matters: The fund's size makes it a huge presence in climate philanthropy. And, until now, the fund has been a mysterious presence, given the dearth of info and the broad scope of funding areas.

Updated 41 mins ago - Science

China launches first astronauts to new space station

The manned Shenzhou-12 spacecraft from China's Manned Space Agency onboard the Long March-2F rocket launches at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, Gansu province, China, on Thursday morning Beijing time. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China's Shenzhou 12 mission carrying three astronauts launched into orbit on Thursday morning Beijing time.

Why it matters: Astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo are set to occupy China's new space station. This will be the country's longest crewed space mission ever and the first in almost five years.

Biden's two-step negotiating process

President Biden departs Geneva. Photo: Martial Trezzini/Pool/AFP via Getty

President Biden's summit "reset" was less about trying to make a friend out of Russia than reframing what the U.S. believes can be accomplished by engaging with President Vladimir Putin.

Driving the news: The Geneva meeting yielded no immediate breakthroughs beyond agreements about ambassadors returning to work and plans to launch talks on nuclear security. But in classic Biden fashion — aviators on, jacket off and a one-liner about invading Russia he had to clarify was a joke — the U.S. president used a post-summit news conference to explain his approach.

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