Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to give away most of his $124 billion net worth during his lifetime, telling CNN in an exclusive interview he will devote most of his fortune to fighting climate change and helping people fighting the… Humanity can unite in the face of deep social and political divisions.
Though Bezos’ vows were short on details, this is the first time he’s announced he plans to give away most of his money. Critics blame Bezos for not signing the Giving Pledge, a pledge by hundreds of the world’s richest people to donate most of their wealth to charity.
Exclusive: Jeff Bezos now offers his advice on risk-taking
– Source: CNN
In a sit-down interview with CNN’s Chloe Melas Saturday at his home in Washington, D.C., Bezos, along with his partner, journalist-turned-philanthropist Lauren Sánchez, said the couple were “building the ability to give away that money.”
Asked directly by CNN if he intends to donate most of his fortune while he is still alive, Bezos said, “Yes, I do.”
Bezos said he and Sánchez agreed to their first interview together since they began dating in 2019 to shine a spotlight on the Bezos Courage and Civility Award, presented this year to musician Dolly Parton.
The 20-minute exchange with Bezos and Sánchez covered a wide range of topics, from Bezos’ views on political dialogue and a possible economic recession to Sánchez’s plan to visit space with an all-female crew and her thoughts on one thriving Business partnership with Bezos.
That working relationship was visible Saturday when Bezos and Sánchez Parton announced a $100 million grant as part of their Courage and Civility Award. It’s the third award of its kind, after similar grants to chef Jose Andrés, who spent part of the money preparing meals for Ukrainians – and climate activist and CNN contributor Van Jones.
“When you think of Dolly,” Sánchez said in the interview, “you see everyone’s smiling, right? She just shines with light. And all she wants to do is bring light into other people’s worlds. And so we couldn’t have imagined anyone better than presenting Dolly with this award and we know that she will do amazing things with it.”
The common thread connecting Courage and Civility Award grantees, Bezos said, is their ability to bring many people together to solve big challenges.
“I’m just honored to be a part of what they’re doing for this world,” Bezos told CNN.
Unity, Bezos said, is a quality that will be necessary to confront climate change, and one he repeatedly cited when he blasted politicians and social media for increasing division.
But the couple’s biggest challenge might be figuring out how to split Bezos’ massive fortune. Bezos declined to give a specific percentage or where it would likely be spent.
Despite being the fourth richest person in the world according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Bezos has failed to set a target amount he would like to give away during his lifetime.
Bezos has committed $10 billion, or about 8% of his current net worth, over 10 years to the Bezos Earth Fund, which Sánchez co-chairs. His priorities include reducing the carbon footprint of construction grade cement and steel; urging financial regulators to consider climate-related risks; advancement of data and mapping technologies to monitor carbon emissions; and the large-scale development of natural, plant-based carbon sinks.
Though Bezos is now the chairman of Amazon (AMZN) rather than its CEO — he stepped down from that role in 2021 — he’s still involved in greening the company. Amazon is one of more than 300 companies that have pledged to reduce their carbon footprint by 2040 under the principles of the Paris Climate Agreement, Bezos said, despite Amazon’s (AMZN) footprint growing 18% in 2021, which is what a pandemic-driven e-commerce boom. Amazon’s (AMZN) calculation of its own climate impact reflects its outsized influence on everything from debates on unionization to antitrust policy, where the company has received a tremendous amount of attention from regulators, lawmakers and civil society groups.
Bezos compared his philanthropic strategy to his years of effort to build a titanic e-commerce and cloud computing engine that has made him one of the most powerful people on earth.
“The hard part is figuring out how to do it in a leveraged way,” he said, implying that even as he gives away his billions, he still strives to maximize returns. “It’s not easy. Building Amazon wasn’t easy. It took a lot of hard work, a bunch of very smart teammates, hardworking teammates, and I think – and I think Lauren thinks the same thing – that charity is a lot like philanthropy.
“There are a number of ways that I think you could do ineffective things as well,” he added. “So you have to think carefully about it and have brilliant people on the team.”
Bezos’ methodical approach to giving is in sharp contrast to that of his ex-wife, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who recently donated nearly $4 billion to 465 organizations in less than a year.
As Bezos and Sánchez flesh out their plans for Bezos’ immense wealth, many people of more modest means are preparing for a prolonged economic downturn that economists fear.
Last month, Bezos tweeted a warning to his followers on Twitter advising them to “close the hatches.”
The advice is intended for both business owners and consumers, Bezos said in the interview, suggesting that individuals should consider deferring purchases of large ticket items they are eyeing — or that companies should slow their acquisitions and capital expenditures .
“Take some risk off the table,” Bezos said. “Have some dry powder ready… Just a little risk mitigation could make all the difference for this small business if we run into even more serious economic problems. You have to play with the odds a bit.”
Many might be feeling the pinch now, he added, but argued that as an optimist, he believes the American Dream “is and will be even more attainable in the future” — and predicted that space travel would be widely accessible to people during Bezos’ lifetime could become public.
Sánchez said the pair were “really great teammates,” though she laughed. “We can be kind of boring,” Sánchez said. Bezos smiled and replied, “Never boring.”
Sánchez, the founder of Black Ops Aviation, the first women-owned aerial film and production company, is a trained helicopter pilot. She said in the interview that they both took turns in the driver’s seat.
Bezos has credited his own journey into space with helping inspire his push to combat climate change. Now it’s Sanchez’s turn.
Sánchez told CNN she expects to launch herself into orbit sometime in 2023. And while she didn’t directly address who will be joining her — who quickly dismissed Bezos as a crew member — she simply said, “It’s going to be a great group of women.”
Bezos may add NFL owner to his resume. CNN recently reported that Bezos and Jay-Z are in talks about a possible joint bid for the Washington Commanders.
It’s not clear if the two have already spoken to Dan Snyder and his wife Tanya, the current owners of the NFL team, about the possibility.
But during Saturday’s interview, Melas Bezos asked if the speculation was true.
“Yeah, I heard that buzz,” Bezos said with a smile.
Sánchez chimed in with a laugh: “I like football. I’m just going to throw this for everyone out there.
Bezos added, “I grew up in Houston, Texas and played soccer as a kid… and it’s my favorite sport… so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
– CNN’s Chloe Melas contributed to this report