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Jeff Bezos looks up at a living wall during the grand opening of Amazon's spheres in Seattle in January.
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Jeff Bezos looks up at a living wall during the grand opening of Amazon's spheres in Seattle in January.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Jeff Bezos launches $2 billion fund to help homeless, create preschools

Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, announced Thursday that he and his wife, MacKenzie, are launching a $2 billion philanthropic effort aimed at helping the homeless and providing high-quality preschool in low-income communities.

The Amazon founder said in a statement that the new Bezos Day One Fund would fund existing non-profits that help the homeless. Bezos said the effort was inspired partially by the organization Mary’s Place.

The fund would also create a network of preschools, Bezos' statement said. The schools would be free and inspired by the Montessori school model.

Geekwire co-founder Todd Bishop spoke with KUOW’s Angela King shortly after the announcement. Bishop noted that the fund comes to about 1.25 percent of Bezos’ overall net worth of $163 billion.

Do we know how this preschool network would work or who would run them?

Bishop: Not yet. And that is probably one of the most intriguing parts of this announcement. If you look at the homelessness initiative, that will essentially fund existing nonprofits. So a little bit more arm's length there for this new Bezos Day One Fund. For the preschool initiative, though, this is where you will see, I predict, Amazon's sort of philanthropy and innovation approach applied. In other words, Jeff Bezos has through this personal initiative an opportunity to really be innovative in the same way that he was through the growth of Amazon and his space venture.

That's a good point because Bezos and Amazon have been criticized for not being more charitable giving all the money they made here. So why this particular project from Bezos?

Bishop: It's interesting on the homelessness initiative. That is something clearly that is top of mind in Seattle and for Amazon. They partner with Mary's Place a nonprofit and are actually creating a shelter inside one of their new buildings. Clearly education is something that is top of mind also for many people in technology given the importance of computer science education and the need for high tech, highly skilled engineers. And I think that especially business is trying to create foundations for society here and in other words the pillars of organizations that can make a difference long term. And that really is what he's known for, long-term thinking.

A little over a year ago Bezos asked folks on Twitter for charitable ideas, saying he spends most of his time thinking long term but for his philanthropic efforts he wanted to go the short-term route. Do we know whose idea this was?

Bishop: We're looking into that right now where it is not clear from the responses to this tweet in 2017 which of those responses was the inspiration for these ideas. I think the answer is likely that it was a combination of many of them that came and sort of crystallized for Jeff Bezos to come up with these two initiatives.