There can be little (reasonable) doubt that Jeff Bezos will make a significant impact as a philanthropist in the medium to long-term, but right now he has a growing public relations issue.
Late last year, Bezos tweeted that he was looking for ideas on how to effectively philanthropically contribute and he was inundated with suggestions.
Then, silence. Bezos later said that philanthropy was something he was ‘saving for later,’ and up until a few months ago, that was completely acceptable. After all, it’s his money and he can do with it as he wishes. But now, as the richest man who has ever lived, many think that Bezos now has a responsibility to start sharing some of that wealth.
This is all Bill Gates’ fault. The now second richest man in the world, committed to giving away most of his $90 billion fortune ten years ago and appears to be honouring that pledge with billions of dollars going to worthy causes every year. This has led to a tidal wave of billionaire generosity and high expectations of the ultra-rich from average people, who, in the end, are their customers.
Bezos’ first, and largest donation has raised a few eyebrows. An enormous $33 million has been pledged to a scholarship fund for ‘dreamers,’ the name given to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States of America as children. This donation has a special resonance for Bezos as his father emigrated from Cuba. Of course, both the cause and the amount are more than worthy, but perhaps not of the world’s richest man, for whom this insanely large amount could be a rounding error.
The charity, of course, is beyond grateful and the number of students involved means that this type of donation will create a sustainable scholarship that will likely outlive Bezos himself – truly, a wonderful gift. But as the first major donation from the first person in our history to have a net worth in excess of $100 billion, it lacks the heart and soul offered by Gates.
Obviously, this could be the start of a number of similar donations to other charities, which would quickly increase the Amazon founders’ tally and remove any negative thoughts tarnishing this wonderful act. But if he fails to act quickly, this could start to be seen as a one-off gesture, or at least an inconsistent action that is at the very least politically irresponsible from someone who should be far more astute.
The political timing of the donation also seems a bit odd. United States President Donald Trump had only just made some derogatory comments about ‘dreamers,’ when Bezos, a Trump critic to say the least, made his donation. It would seem cynical to put this down to a game of politics between two bitter rivals, but if that is the case then it does take the sheen off the act.
For now, we will have to wait and see what Bezos does. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a flood of philanthropic activity.