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When Jeff Bezos divorced McKenzie Scott in 2019, she received 4 percent of Amazon shares, valued then at $36 billion. She determined that she wanted to give her staggering wealth away. In the past 11 months, she has donated more than $8 billion as direct gifts to nonprofits.
None of the recipients asked for the money. None expected it. They were selected by Scott’s team, and out of the blue, got a phone call informing them about their good fortune. One of her trusted advisors is her new husband, Dan Jewett, who teaches chemistry at her children’s school.
In 2020, she gave away nearly $6 billion to 500 organizations. She just revealed that she donated another $2.74 billion to 286 organizations. The average size of the grants was about $10 million. Her grants come with no strings attached, unlike “gifts” from the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and many other venture philanthropists. The recipients can use the money as they see fit.
Read her statement in Medium, where she makes clear her disdain for the system that creates vast inequality. Her article also lists the organizations that received her surprise grants.
She writes, in part:
People struggling against inequities deserve center stage in stories about change they are creating. This is equally — perhaps especially — true when their work is funded by wealth. Any wealth is a product of a collective effort that included them. The social structures that inflate wealth present obstacles to them. And despite those obstacles, they are providing solutions that benefit us all.
Putting large donors at the center of stories on social progress is a distortion of their role. Me, Dan, a constellation of researchers and administrators and advisors — we are all attempting to give away a fortune that was enabled by systems in need of change. In this effort, we are governed by a humbling belief that it would be better if disproportionate wealth were not concentrated in a small number of hands, and that the solutions are best designed and implemented by others. Though we still have a lot to learn about how to act on these beliefs without contradicting and subverting them, we can begin by acknowledging that people working to build power from within communities are the agents of change. Their service supports and empowers people who go on to support and empower others.
Despite her determination to give her fortune away, Amazon’s stock price has soared because of the pandemic. Scott’s fortune is now valued at $60 billion. She will have to give her billions away faster. Much faster.
McKenzie Scott seems to understand that our current economic system is unjust. We need a wealth tax to correct the insane inequality that now characterizes our society.