Jeff Bezos is now the world’s richest person — and he could redefine philanthropy – Business Insider
A surge in Amazon stock on Thursday morning
has increased CEO Jeff Bezos’ net worth by $1.1 billion, to
$90.9 billion, officially making him the world’s richest person.
Aside from Bezos’ displacing Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates,
whose net worth is $90.7 billion, the new distinction could fuel
his interest in furthering human progress through for-profit
companies — efforts that could greatly shift how the world’s
wealthiest think about philanthropy.
“I think his activities to date suggest he looks at some of his
business investments as opportunities to advance social change,”
Jane Wales, CEO of the Global Philanthropy
Forum, told Business Insider.
Amazon’s agreement to buy Whole Foods, announced June 18,
sent the online retailer’s stock skyrocketing. It also increased
Bezos’ net worth by $1.8 billion, to $84.6 billion. At the time,
$5 billion behind Gates.
Bezos’ plan for business investments to double as forms of social
change was evident in his buying The Washington Post in 2013. He
quickly turned it into a lean, digital journalism powerhouse
— something other large news organizations have struggled to do.
Similarly, the Whole Foods purchase may hint at Bezos’ desire to
reinvent the food industry’s supply chain. (At the very least, he
has the opportunity to do so.)
Wales says Bezos’ business plays offer a window into how he could
cement his status as one of the most influential players in the
philanthropy world, independent of the Bezos Family
Foundation that’s run by his parents. In fact, Bezos may
already be looking to take on more projects. Recently, he
asked his nearly 300274,000 Twitter followers for ways to
generate a lasting impact with quick, decisive action.
“I’m thinking about a philanthropy strategy that is the opposite
of how I mostly spend my time — working on the long term,” Bezos
wrote. “For philanthropy, I find I’m drawn to the opposite end of
the spectrum: the right now.”
That approach could encourage more short-term solutions to
problems typically thought of as systemic, Wales said, and that
could be a good thing. She pointed to the ongoing migrant crisis
as one example.
“That requires action now. Governments are overwhelmed, and
policy is not solving it,” Wales said. “The Bezos Family
Foundation, which is mostly long-term in its thinking, is also
giving to the International Rescue Committee, to Save the
Children, to CARE — to organizations that address the immediate
as well as the long term.”
Other billionaires, on the other hand, are sticking to
big-picture work. Bill and Melinda Gates
are trying to end polio once and for all, and Mark Zuckerberg
and Priscilla Chan are trying to
eradicate disease and improve education.
But Bezos is new to the philanthropy world —
he isn’t involved with his parents’ foundation — and people
just starting out in the field often take a year or two to get
the lay of the land and form a strategy. Judging by Bezos’ past
business moves, his style of philanthropy might involve private
investments in startups looking to do social good, or
acquisitions of other companies.
Not everyone in the philanthropy community is optimistic about
Bezos’ influence, however.
Larry Brilliant, the acting chairman of the Skoll Global Threats
Fund, criticized Bezos’ crowdsourcing approach.
“The denominator of ideas you will get in, the vast majority of
ideas which are not good, not viable, will flood this process,”
told The New York Times in June.
And in a
recent open letter to Bezos in Forbes, the philanthropy
adviser Jake Hayman took issue with the notion that focusing on
short-term goals can yield lasting impact.
“It’s the business equivalent of looking for ‘safe, proven
investments’ with imminent 10-fold returns,” Hayman wrote. “It
Bezos is not participating in The Giving Pledge, a pact among
16 billionaires (including Warren Buffett and Zuckerberg) to give
away at least half of their fortunes before they die. But Wales
contends that Bezos still can send a strong signal to wealthy
Silicon Valley types that philanthropy matters.
“He is young, he is in the midst of his career, and he’s already
seen as bold,” she said. “What that tweet says to me is: ‘I do
not want to ignore today’s problems.'”