Jeff Bezos has promised to give away the vast majority of his $124bn (£110bn) fortune during his lifetime, but admitted that ensuring that the most worthy causes benefit is proving as difficult as building his Amazon empire.
The 58-year-old, the world’s fourth richest person, according to Forbes billionaires list, made the pledge after giving $100m to the country singer Dolly Parton to give to charities of her choice as part of Bezos’s annual Courage and Civility award.
“Conflict travels, conflict is interesting and people do focus on conflict,” said Bezos, discussing the award to the 9 to 5 singer in an interview with CNN. “[I] want to bring a little bit of light, a little bit of amplification to these people who use unity instead of conflict.”
Bezos, who has built Amazon from a startup in a rented garage into a $1tn global business, has in the past been criticised for his relative lack of largesse toward charitable causes compared with some fellow billionaires.
Bezos is not a signatory to the Giving Pledge, which encourages the world’s wealthiest to give half their net worth to philanthropy and was set up by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. It has attracted more than 230 signatories including Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.
Bezos and his partner, the journalist turned philanthropist Lauren Sánchez, who he began dating in 2019 shortly after announcing his divorce from his wife of 25 years, said they were considering the best way to distribute his wealth to good causes.
“The hard part is figuring out how to do it in a levered way - it is not easy,” he said. “Building Amazon was not easy. It took a lot of hard work and a bunch of very smart teammates. Philanthropy is very similar. It is really hard and there are a bunch of ways you can do ineffective things, too. We are building the capacity to be able to give away this money.”
The $100m donation to Parton is the third Bezos has made as part of his Courage and Civility award, after similar grants to the chef José Andrés and the climate advocate Van Jones.
“All she wants to do is bring light into other people’s worlds,” said Sánchez. “And so we couldn’t have thought of someone better than to give this award to Dolly, and we know she’s going to do amazing things with it.”
Bezos has not said what proportion of his fortune is likely to go to philanthropy, or provided details of exactly which causes are likely to be his biggest focus.
He has committed $10bn over 10 years to the Bezos Earth Fund, which Sánchez co-chairs, and Amazon is one of 300 companies that have promised to reduce their carbon footprint by 2040 in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
Bezos’s ex-wife ,MacKenzie Scott, who in September filed for divorce from her second husband Dan Jewett, received a record $38bn settlement from Bezos, making her the world’s fourth richest woman.
The 52-year-old, who has signed the Giving Pledge, recently gave away $3.8bn to 465 organisations in less than a year.
In 2018,Bezos topped the Philanthropy 50 list, a ranking of the US’s biggest donors compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Critics have suggested Bezos should focus as much on pay and conditions for his global Amazon workforce as donating money to charitable causes. On Monday it was reported that Amazon was preparing to announce 10,000 job cuts this week, the latest tech giant to announce big cuts amid signs of an economic slowdown for the sector.