Is Jeff Bezos right about here-and-now philanthropy?

Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, Mark Zuckerberg have pledged billions of their fortune to philanthropy, and they’ve successfully encouraged over 150 other billionaires to do the same through The Giving Pledge. They’ve invested their money into philanthropy with their eyes on the horizon, releasing incremental amounts towards several causes over decades.

In a tweet last month though, another multi-billionaire philanthropist, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, took a contrarian view of the business of giving. He made an impassioned plea for immediate and impactful philanthropy. When the world’s second-richest man talks about “helping people in the here-and-now – short term”, even if you don’t agree with the approach, you need to listen.

 

The idea is simple: If people are starving today in a particular area, working on ideas to eradicate hunger in that region ten years down the line – while a noble thought – means equally failing to deal with those dying of hunger today, tomorrow, and the day after. The same can be said about education, homelessness and a myriad of other philanthropic causes.

The Giving Pledge, for example, asks its billionaire signatories to commit at least half of their fortune to philanthropy during their lifetime. The money will come, but it would take decades to be added to the coffers, and then another few decades after that to begin to create measurable impact. There’s a reason that Bezos hasn’t signed the pledge.

He is clear that while he would like to crowdsource ideas of immediate philanthropic investment avenues, he doesn’t intend the process or the result to be shortsighted, adding in his tweet that he wishes to donate to causes that are, “at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.”

Bezos has been actively involved in philanthropic causes and has been far quieter about it as compared to his contemporaries. The Bezos Family Foundation has invested in educational causes, while he and his wife McKenzie have donated millions of their own wealth to scientific research.

The Amazon boss knows his idea can be polarising, not least among his billionaire friends. Which explains the last line of that tweet, “…and if you think this approach is wrong, [I] would love to hear that too.” If you feel strongly one way or the other, it’s time you logged into twitter.