MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist and former wife of the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has donated $15m (£13.5m) to a social enterprise that helps provide glasses to farmers in developing countries.
Scott’s donation to VisionSpring is believed to be the largest single private donation towards helping solve the problem of uncorrected blurry vision which leaves hundreds of millions of people in poverty.
The donation – announced on World Sight Day – kickstarts an initiative to provide glasses to hundreds of thousands of low-income tea, coffee, cocoa and artisan workers in India, Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.
VisionSpring says its $70m Livelihoods in Focus campaign could create more than $1bn of new income among tea, coffee, cocoa and artisan workers by 2030 by allowing them to see clearer and earn more.
“The gift from Ms Scott is an incredible acknowledgment of the power of a simple pair of eyeglasses to unlock earning, learning, safety and wellbeing for people vulnerable to poverty,” VisionSpring’s chief executive Ella Gudwin said.
“And, with this powerful endorsement of our work, we are embarking on a multi-year journey to put Livelihoods in Focus, addressing the massive vision care gap among agricultural and artisan workers in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. We need many more philanthropic investors, along with governments, companies and NGOs to join in bringing the wonder of clear vision to everyone.”
The non-profit organisation said it found that 65-85% of workers who acquired eyeglasses through its vision access programmes had never had their sight tested before and became first-time wearers of glasses.
“For workers the benefits of this-700 year-old technology are immediate,” VisionSpring said. “They gain improved productivity, income and wellbeing the moment glasses move from case to face. Research also shows that eyeglasses improve quality of life, reducing depression and anxiety, and increasing involvement in religious and family life.”
Scott collected $38bn (£27.5bn) in her divorce from Bezos in 2019 – the world’s biggest divorce settlement – and rapidly started giving it away.
Soon after the divorce, she said she had “a disproportionate amount of money to share” and promised to work hard at giving it away “until the safe is empty”. She has already donated more than $12bn to good causes.
Scott made the declaration in a letter to the Giving Pledge, the philanthropic initiative created by the investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft’s principal founder, Bill Gates, to encourage the world’s richest people to commit to giving away at least half their wealth to charity.
Scott, who married Jeff Bezos in 1993, a year before he started Amazon from his garage in Seattle, said: “There are lots of resources each of us can pull from our safes to share with others – time, attention, knowledge, patience, creativity, talent, effort, humour [and] compassion.
“In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty.”
Her ex-husband, the world’s second-richest person with a$136bn personal fortune, has not signed up to the Giving Pledge.
Last year, Scott married Seattle science teacher Dan Jewett.