Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to give away most of his $124 billion net worth during his lifetime, telling CNN in an exclusive interview that he will use most of his wealth to fight climate change and support people who can unite humanity in the face of with deep social and political differences.
Although Bezos’ pledge was light on details, this marks the first time he has announced plans to give away the majority of his money. Critics have chastised 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 offers advice on taking risks right now
– Source: CNN
In a sit-down interview with CNN’s Chloe Melas on Saturday at his home in Washington, DC, Bezos said he and his partner, journalist-turned-philanthropist Lauren Sánchez, are “building the capacity to be able to give this money away.”
Asked directly by CNN if he intends to donate most of his fortune during his lifetime, Bezos said, “Yes, I do.”
Bezos said he and Sánchez agreed to their first interview together since they began dating in 2019 to help spotlight the Bezos Courage and Civility Award, which was given 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 reflections on a thriving business partnership with Bezos.
That working relationship was on display Saturday when Bezos and Sánchez announced a $100 million grant to Parton as part of her Courage and Civility Award. It is the third such award, following similar grants to chef Jose Andrés, who has used some of the money to cook meals for Ukrainians — and climate advocate and CNN contributor Van Jones.
“When you think about Dolly,” Sánchez said in the interview, “look, everybody’s smiling, right? She just radiates light. And all she wants to do is bring light into other people’s worlds. And so we couldn’t have I couldn’t think of anyone better than to give this award to Dolly, and we know she’s going to do amazing things with it.”
The common thread connecting the Courage and Civility Award recipients, Bezos said, was their ability to bring many people together to solve big challenges.
“I just feel honored to be able to be a part of what they’re doing for this world,” Bezos told CNN.
Unity, Bezos said, is a quality that will be needed to confront climate change, and one that he repeatedly invoked as he blasted politicians and social media for increasing divisiveness.
But the couple’s biggest challenge may be figuring out how to distribute Bezos’ enormous fortune. Bezos declined to identify a specific percentage or to provide specifics on where it would likely be spent.
Despite being the fourth richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Bezos has refrained from setting a target amount to give away during his lifetime.
Bezos has committed $10 billion over 10 years, or about 8% of his current net worth, to the Bezos Earth Fund, which Sánchez co-chairs. Among the priorities are reducing the carbon footprint of construction-grade cement and steel; pushing financial regulators to assess climate-related risks; advancing data and mapping technologies to monitor carbon emissions; and building natural, plant-based carbon sinks on a large scale.
Although Bezos is now Amazon’s ( AMZN ) chairman and not CEO — he stepped down from that role in 2021 — he remains 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 accord, Bezos said, although Amazon’s ( AMZN ) footprint grew 18% in 2021, reflecting a pandemic-fueled e-commerce boom . Amazon’s ( AMZN ) reckoning with its own effect on the climate reflects its outsized impact on everything from debates over labor unions to antitrust policy, where the company has attracted a tremendous amount of scrutiny from regulators, lawmakers and civil society groups.
Bezos likened his philanthropic strategy to his years-long effort to build a titanic e-commerce and cloud computing engine that has made him one of the most powerful people in the world.
“The hard part is figuring out how to do it efficiently,” he said, suggesting that even as he gives away his billions, he’s still looking to maximize returns. “It’s not easy. Building Amazon wasn’t easy. It took a lot of hard work, a bunch of really smart teammates, hard-working teammates, and I find — and I think Lauren finds the same thing — that charity, philanthropy, is very similar. ”
“There are a number of ways I think you can do inefficient things as well,” he added. “So you have to think it through and you have to have brilliant people on the team.”
Bezos’ methodical approach to giving stands in stark contrast to that of his ex-wife, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who recently gave away nearly $4 billion to 465 organizations in less than a year.
While Bezos and Sánchez plan their plans for Bezos’s vast wealth, many people of more modest means are preparing for what economists fear could be a prolonged economic downturn.
Last month, Bezos tweeted a warning to his followers on Twitter, recommending that they “batt the hatches”.
The advice was meant for both business owners and consumers, Bezos said in the interview, suggesting that individuals should consider holding off on buying big-ticket items they’ve been eyeing — or that companies should slow acquisitions and capital spending.
“Take some risk off the table,” Bezos said. “Keep some dry powder on hand…. Just a little bit of risk reduction can make all the difference to the small business if we get into even more serious financial trouble. You have to play the odds a little bit.”
Many may feel that pinch now, he added, but claimed that as an optimist he believes that the American dream “is and will become even more attainable in the future” – estimating that within Bezos’ lifetime, space travel could become widely available to the public .
Sánchez said the pair are “really good teammates,” though she laughed, “We can be a little boring,” Sánchez said. Bezos smiled and replied, “Never boring.”
Sánchez, the founder of Black Ops Aviation, the first female-owned and operated aviation film and production company, is a trained helicopter pilot. She said in the interview that they have both taken turns in the driver’s seat.
Bezos has credited his own journey to space for helping to inspire his efforts to fight climate change. Now it’s Sánchez’s turn.
Sánchez told CNN that she expects to go into orbit herself sometime in 2023. And while she didn’t directly address who will join her — quickly ruling out Bezos as a crewmate — she said simply: “It’s going to be a great group of women.”
Bezos can add NFL owner to his resume. CNN recently reported that Bezos and Jay-Z are in talks about a potential joint bid for the Washington Commanders.
It is not clear if the two have yet spoken with Dan Snyder and his wife, Tanya, the current owners of the NFL team, about the possibility.
But during the interview on Saturday, Melas asked Bezos if the speculation was true.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that buzz,” Bezos said with a smile.
Sánchez peeked in with a laugh: “I like football. I’m just going to throw it out there for everyone.”
Bezos added, “I grew up in Houston, Texas, and I played football growing up 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