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Bezos targets homeless families, needy preschoolers with $ 2 billion, but there are few details

The Amazon founder, the wealthiest person in the world, offered only some general principles for the Bezos Day One Fund, which will start with $ 2 billion.

The richest man in the world announced a plan to donate about 1.2 percent of his present wealth for homelessness and early childhood education, to praise and ask questions about the Jeff Bezos brand, and how a new and powerful donor will affect the recipients his generosity.

More than a year after publicly soliciting proposals for a short-term philanthropic strategy, the Amazon founder said Thursday that he and his wife, MacKenzie, are providing $ 2 billion to help fund non-profit families and a network of non-profits Kindergartens in low-income communities.

The initiative, which is nationally oriented but has already been influenced by efforts in Seattle, will be called the Bezos Day One Fund, a name that translates Amazon's business philosophy into Bezos' largest philanthropic work.

The Day 1 Families Fund annually awards awards to organizations "who compassionately work to satisfy and address the most pressing needs of young families, while the Day 1 Academies Fund provides a network of scholarships, Montessori-inspired pre-schools in underserved communities," Bezos said on Twitter.

He described an organization that operates the preschool network according to Amazon's corporate principles, above all, "genuine, intense customer obsession," he said. "The child will be the customer."

An Amazon spokesperson had no details about who Bezos would lead a new initiative or where the group would start. The $ 2 billion, he said, was a starting point, but no timeline was revealed for spending that amount.

The structure of the new philanthropic push of Bezo is still in focus.

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The name "Bezos Day 1 Foundation" was reserved on Wednesday as a nonprofit organization with the Washington State Department, suggesting that he will be based here. Another company, the Bezos Foundation, was registered with the state on January 23 as a charitable body. These are, along with the Bezos Family Foundation, led by Jackie and Mike Bezos – Jeff Bezos' parents – a nonprofit organization focused on education in 2000.

Bezos is worth $ 164 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a sum that comes mainly from the 16 percent share of Amazon he owns.

Public donations from the 54-year-old and his family have brought $ 65 million over the last decade to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and $ 33 million earlier this year to fund TheDream.us, a scholarship program for children United States illegal.

Give in scale

But Bezos' donations have been far smaller than the two men behind him in the wealth list, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was officially founded in 2000 with a focus on global health and education reform in the US. It was not Gates first attempt to give. He and his wife Melinda had previously founded the William H. Gates Foundation (named after his father), which focused on local and global health programs. This fund merged with the Gates Learning Foundation, which expanded Internet access for public libraries to build the organization it is today. Buffett pledged more than $ 30 billion to the Gates Foundation in 2006.

The foundation had awarded $ 46 billion in grants by 2017 and is the largest in the world, with more than $ 50 billion worth of equipment.

Gates and Buffett founded the Giving Pledge in 2010, a commitment of the richest people in the world to "devote the majority of their wealth publicly to philanthropy." It has since been signed by 184 people. Bezos is not among them yet.

Philanthropy to this extent is not without critics.

Rob Reich, co-director of Stanford University's Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society, said billionaires are often praised for great gifts, but Americans should be skeptical.

"The great philanthropy, the way Bezos practices, and Bill Gates are a form of power," he said. "It transforms private wealth into public influence."

This is especially true for public education. An Associated Press analysis earlier this year found that the Gates Foundation distributed $ 44 million to outside groups that formed state education plans as part of a broader network that has fueled the national education conversation.

For Reich, the problem is that large donors are not accountable to the public as elected officials and are largely unregulated. They are able to channel money after death for any purpose, he said, and do not have to divulge their philanthropic activity.

The legal structure of a philanthropy makes a difference.

For example, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerburg and his wife Priscilla Chan, who pledged to spend up to one percent of their assets on charitable causes in 2015, have nested their philanthropy in a limited liability company. According to Reich, companies are not required to disclose as much as foundations, and they are not limited to giving political campaigns or investing in for-profit companies. He said there is almost no way to track the full range of philanthropic activities in an LLC unless the company decides to disclose that information. Money can also be taken from an LLC, which can not happen when money is put into a foundation, Reich said.

These different disclosure requirements are part of why it is difficult to assess the most philanthropic individuals. The $ 2 billion Bezoses commitment, given everything in 2017, would have put her next to Zuckerberg and Chan and behind the Gates on the list of America's most generous "chronicle of philanthropy."

Focus on early education

Bezos & # 39; s focus on early childhood education could have an oversized effect.

Much of educational research has shown that early learning programs that serve children up to 4 years of age can improve social, academic and economic outcomes for students who traditionally fall behind when they attend kindergarten.

Advocates welcomed the attention, approach and financial resources of Bezos, highlighting the urgent need to expand access to pre-school facilities, especially in the low-income areas that they want to focus on. But there is not much research on whether Montessori programs, a school model that encourages children to manage their own learning, improves outcomes for low-income students, said Steve Barnett, founder and co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research ( NIEER).

"IIf they can bring what they've learned in the business to quality improvement, then maybe they can provide a real innovation, "says Barnett said.

According to Barnett's group, Washington receives good grades for preschool, but the eligibility requirements are so stringent that register growth is slower than the national average. A family of four, with an annual income of more than $ 27,600, is usually not eligible for the National Early Childhood Care Program. A general lack of funding means that only a fraction of poor families can enroll their children in government-subsidized programs.

Taxes, philanthropy

More than a year ago Bezos posted on Twitter a Ask for proposals for philanthropic initiatives that should make a difference in the short term. This contrasts with the long view praised by Bezos at Amazon and Blue Origin, the space technology company he has financed by selling Amazon shares at $ 1 billion a year. Another of his side projects is a 10,000-year clock built under a mountain he owns in Texas.

"Our lives are better than the lives of our great-grandparents, and their lives were better than the lives of their great-grandparents before them," Bezos said in his Twitter message Thursday. "If our own great-grandchildren do not have a better life than ours, something went very wrong."

His heightened philanthropy comes in the historical context amid the critique of modern capitalism, with Amazon often being brought up as Exhibit A. The Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England, condemned aspects of the gig industry on Wednesday as "simply the reincarnation of an age-old evil" and criticized "companies like Amazon" for taking advantage of a tax system that allows them to pay too little.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a shrill critic from Amazon and a leading proponent of a failed effort to tax large companies earlier this year, dismissed Bezos' philanthropy as an attempt to "soften his image."

Amazon, which recently became the second company worth more than $ 1 trillion, has been criticized for years for largely taking over the formal donation programs of many corporate colleagues. The company's approach has changed a bit in recent years with the growth of its public relations and corporate affairs group, and Amazon has decided to consolidate isolated philanthropy initiatives and offer official support for more.

But in the course of its history, the company has vigorously pushed back on taxes.

Earlier this year, Amazon played a vital role in dismantling and ultimately combating a business tax in Seattle to fund homelessness services and affordable housing. The company interrupted the construction of a building and threatened not to occupy another building that it had leased. This contradicts the prospect of a tax that would have been around $ 500 per employee for large companies in Seattle.

The Seattle City Council implemented a lower tax of $ 275 per employee, which would bring in $ 47 million annually – including an estimated $ 12.5 million from Amazon. Amazon then contributed $ 25,000 to an initiative campaign that pressured the council to reverse and lift the smaller tax a month later.

Target the homelessness of the family

Amazon has not ignored homelessness and created space in its growing headquarters for Fare Start restaurants, which train workers for food service jobs, and Mary's Place, a shelter for homeless women and children. Amazon said it will spend $ 40 million on this effort in August.

The new Bezos posts seem to unfold without much input from Amazon itself. Mary's Place CEO Marty Hartman said the announcement on Thursday was a surprise, even though Bezos cited the organization's mission of "no kid sleeps outside" as inspiration for the Day 1 Families Fund.

Homelessness of the family "continues to be a challenge to get everyone off the street," said Hartman. "It's not just Seattle and Washington, we see this problem all over the West Coast, but I'm so grateful for the vision and the idea, we can all come up with it."

The magnitude of Bezos's involvement has "the potential to cause homelessness in the family," depending on how it is used, said Nan Roman, director of the National Alliance for Ending Homelessness.

A census in January 2017 showed that in the US nearly 185,000 parents and children live without permanent housing and almost 17,000 live outdoors.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development spent over $ 700 million on homelessness for families through competitive scholarships in 2015, she said.

"Well, yes, it's a considerable amount of money," said Roman. "But it would have to be used strategically."

Reporter of the Seattle Times Dahlia Bazzaz, Vernal Coleman, Asia Fields and Rachel Lerman contributed to the coverage.


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