Exclusive: Jeff Bezos says he will donate most of his money to charity |  CNN Business

Exclusive: Jeff Bezos says he will donate most of his money to charity | CNN Business

CNN Business

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to donate the majority of his $124 billion net worth over his lifetime, telling CNN in an exclusive interview that he will dedicate most of his wealth to the fight against climate change and supporting people who can unite humanity in the face of deep social and political divisions.

While Bezos’ vow is light on details, it’s the first time he’s announced he plans to donate most of his money. Critics have faulted Bezos for not signing the Giving Pledge, a pledge made by hundreds of the world’s wealthiest people to donate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes.

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In an interview with CNN’s Chloe Melas on Saturday at her home in Washington, D.C., Bezos, speaking alongside her partner, journalist-turned-philanthropist Lauren Sánchez, said the couple are “building the capacity to be able to give that money away. ”

Asked directly by CNN if he intends to donate the majority of his wealth over his lifetime, Bezos replied, “Yes, I do.”

Bezos said he and Sánchez agreed to their first interview together since they started dating in 2019 to help shine a light on the Bezos Courage and Civility Award, given this year to musician Dolly Parton.

The 20-minute exchange with Bezos and Sánchez covered a wide range of topics, from Bezos’ views on political dialogue and a possible economic downturn to Sánchez’s plan to visit outer space with an all-female crew and his friends. thoughts on a thriving business partnership with Bezos. .

That working relationship was exposed on Saturday when Bezos and Sánchez announced a $100 million grant to Parton as part of his Courage and Civility award. It is the third such award, following similar grants to chef Jose Andrés, who spent some of the money preparing meals for Ukrainians – and climate advocate and CNN contributor Van Jones.

“When you think of Dolly,” Sánchez said in the interview, “Look, everyone smiles, right? She’s just beaming with light. And all she wants to do is to bring light into other people’s worlds. And so we couldn’t have thought of anyone better than to give Dolly this award, and we know she’s going to do amazing things with it.

The common thread connecting Courage and Civility award winners, Bezos said, was their ability to bring many people together to solve great challenges.

“I just feel honored to be able to be a part of what they’re doing for this world,” Bezos told CNN.

Unity, Bezos said, is a trait that will be needed to deal with climate change and one he repeatedly invoked as he lambasted politicians and social media for amplifying division.

But perhaps the couple’s biggest challenge is figuring out how to distribute Bezos’ huge fortune. Bezos declined to identify a specific percentage or provide concrete details on where it is likely to be spent.

Despite being the fourth richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Bezos refrained from setting a target amount to donate during his lifetime.

Bezos has committed $10 billion over 10 years, or about 8% of his current net worth, to the Bezos Earth Fund, which Sánchez co-chairs. Among its priorities are reducing the carbon footprint of cement and structural steel; pushing financial regulators to take climate-related risks into account; advancing data and mapping technologies to monitor carbon emissions; and the large-scale construction of natural plant-based carbon sinks.

Although Bezos is now the executive chairman of Amazon (AMZN) and not its CEO – he stepped down from that position in 2021 – he is still involved in greening the company. Amazon is one of more than 300 companies that have pledged to reduce their carbon footprint by 2040 in accordance with the principles of the Paris Climate Agreement, Bezos said, although Amazon’s footprint (AMZN ) grew by 18% in 2021, reflecting a pandemic – trade boom. Amazon’s (AMZN) reckoning with its own climate effect reflects its outsized impact on everything from union organizing debates to antitrust policy, where the company has drawn an enormous level of scrutiny from regulators. lawmakers and civil society groups.

Bezos compared his philanthropic strategy to his years of trying to build a titanic e-commerce and cloud computing engine that made him one of the most powerful people in the world.

“The hardest part is figuring out how to do it with leverage,” he said, implying that even though he’s giving away his billions, he’s still looking to maximize his return. “It’s not easy. Building Amazon hasn’t been easy. It’s taken a lot of hard work, a very smart group of teammates, hard-working teammates, and I find – and I think Lauren finds the same thing – that charity, philanthropy, is very similar.

“There are a bunch of ways I think you could do inefficient things too,” he added. “So you have to think about it carefully and you have to have brilliant people in the team.”

Bezos’ methodical approach to giving stands in stark contrast to that of his ex-wife, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who recently donated nearly $4 billion to 465 organizations in less than a year.

As Bezos and Sánchez map out their plans for Bezos’ immense wealth, many people of more modest means are preparing for what economists fear will be a prolonged economic downturn.

Last month, Bezos tweeted a warning to his Twitter followers, advising them to “batten down the hatches”.

The advice was aimed at business owners and consumers, Bezos said in the interview, suggesting that individuals should consider postponing the purchase of big-ticket items they were considering — or that businesses should slow down their acquisitions and their capital expenditure.

“Take some risk off the table,” Bezos said. “Keep some dry powder on hand… Just a little bit of risk reduction could make the difference for this small business, if we run into even bigger economic problems. You have to play the odds a bit.

Many may be feeling the pinch now, he added, but argued that as an optimist he believes the American Dream “is and will be even more achievable in the future” – projecting that during Bezos’ lifetime, space travel could become widely available to the public.

Sánchez said the pair made “very good teammates”, although she laughed, “We can be a bit boring,” Sánchez said. Bezos smiled and replied, “Never boring.”

Sánchez, the founder of Black Ops Aviation, the first female-owned and operated aerial film production and production company, is a trained helicopter pilot. She said in the interview that they both took turns driving.

Bezos has credited his own space trip with helping to inspire his efforts to fight climate change. Now it’s Sánchez’s turn.

Sánchez told CNN that she plans to venture into orbit herself in 2023. And while she didn’t directly state who would join her — quickly ruling out Bezos as a teammate — she simply said, ” It will be a great group of women.”

Bezos could add the NFL owner to his resume. CNN recently reported that Bezos and Jay-Z were in talks about a possible joint bid on Washington commanders.

It’s unclear if the two have ever spoken with current NFL team owners Dan Snyder and his wife, Tanya, about the possibility.

But during Saturday’s interview, Melas asked Bezos if the speculation was true.

“Yeah, I heard that buzz,” Bezos said with a smile.

Sánchez responded with a laugh: “I love football. I’ll just throw this out there for everyone.

Bezos added: “I grew up in Houston, Texas and played soccer as a kid…and it’s my favorite sport…so we’ll have to wait and see.”

– CNN’s Chloe Melas contributed to this report

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