Why has Amazon’s Bezos given $2bn to homeless?

Tech founder’s new charity will also fund schools where ‘child will be the customer’

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos had been criticised for his lack of philanthropy
(Image credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Amazon chief Jeff Bezos is launching a $2bn (£1.5m) fund to help homeless families and build a network of preschools.

The move “catapults the world’s richest person into a rarefied group of billionaire megadonors” at a time when his company faces “growing scrutiny over its rising power and impact on the economy”, says Bloomberg.

Along with Amazon, the tech mogul also owns space exploration company Blue Origin and newspaper The Washington Post.

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Bezos says he will fund existing organisations that aid homeless people and has pledged to build not-for-profit schools to serve low-income communities.

“We’ll use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon. Most important among those will be genuine, intense customer obsession,” he wrote on Twitter. “The child will be the customer.”

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Bezos said his fund will launch “Montessori-inspired” nurseries - referring to the popular child-centered educational approach - in low income areas.

Explaining his plans to tackle homelessness, he singled out a charity in Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered, that has the policy that “no child sleeps on the street”.

The Bezos gift is one of the biggest single donations ever announced for preschools, if not the biggest, according to Avo Makdessian, director of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Center for Early Learning.

The Amazon founder, whose fortune has risen by $64.7bn (£49.3bn) in the last year alone, “has long faced scrutiny for his lack of a major philanthropic initiative”, says The Guardian.

Last year Bezos tweeted a broad “request for ideas” for a “philanthropy strategy”. It would appear that his latest, and most significant, philanthropic effort is the culmination of that request.

In June, Bezos posted another tweet announcing that he had identified two areas of focus, and that he would reveal them by the end of the summer.

His tweet this week announcing the donation has had mixed reactions on social media, with “many pointing out that Amazon pays a light tax bill in the countries it operates and alleging that workers were underpaid”, says The Daily Telegraph.

It’s hardly surprising that the world’s richest person “is finally getting serious about philanthropy”, David Callahan, founder of specialist news website Inside Philanthropy, told Bloomberg. “With big fortunes like that, the only thing you can really do is give it away - unless you want the government to take half of it through estate tax.”

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