Amazon founder Jeff Bezos continued his recent philanthropic streak on Monday with a $100 million donation to the Obama Foundation, the largest gift the nonprofit has received to date, according to the New York Times.
The Obama Foundation said in a statement that the funds will be used to support the construction of the Obama Presidential Center, as well as all of its ongoing programs, which include supporting youth leaders, mentoring young men, and empowering girls around the world through education. Bezos asked in exchange for the gift that a building at the planned presidential center be named for John Lewis, in honor of the late civil rights leader and Congressman.
“Freedom fighters deserve a special place in the pantheon of heroes, and I can’t think of a more fitting person to honor with this gift than John Lewis, a great American leader and a man of extraordinary decency and courage,” Bezos said in a statement released by the Obama Foundation. “I’m thrilled to support President and Mrs. Obama and their foundation in its mission to train and inspire tomorrow’s leaders.”
Focusing attention on Lewis is particularly poignant given recent efforts to restrict voting rights across states in the US. Lewis dedicated his life to expanding civil rights for Black people and pushed unsuccessfully to pass federal legislation that would strengthen the right to vote before he died. Although the bill remains a top Congressional priority, recent efforts to pass it have been blocked by Senate Republicans.
In recent months, Bezos has upped his philanthropic efforts across a range of areas. He donated $200 million to the Smithsonian Museum, gave $200 million to public figures committed to helping communities, and announced another $2 billion for conserving nature and protecting food systems.
But, despite his generosity so far, it’s also clear that he can do more.
The space titan has a net worth of $210 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That’s more than the individual gross domestic product (GDP) of 140 countries, and he’s not alone in his extreme accumulation of wealth. Globally, there are 2,755 billionaires. During the pandemic, as economies teetered and poverty deepened, these individuals grew their wealth by $5 trillion, amid reports of tax haven use and tax avoidance.
Wealth inequality has rarely been as extreme as it is today — the richest 1% own as much wealth as the poorest 6.9 billion people, according to Oxfam. And over the past 20 years, wealth inequality has increased, the United Nations reports.
These disparities are taking place against a horrorshow of manmade injustices — from the climate crisis to water scarcity to famines. And as world leaders struggle to reach a consensus on how to confront these challenges, people are dying.
More than 45 million people are at risk of starvation across 43 countries right now because of the deprivations of poverty and disruptions from the pandemic.
As highlighted by the World Food Program’s David Beasley in recent weeks, Bezos could stop this particular catastrophe with less than 3% of his net worth — a bigger chunk than his recent donations, but still feasible. The World Food Program is calling on all billionaires to chip in to prevent mass starvation.
Bezos’ increasing donations set a positive example — but more can be done. Global Citizen is calling on billionaires to pledge 5% of their wealth annually to important causes such as the fight to end poverty, COVID-19 relief, and assistance for marginalized communities.
A survey of the charitable giving of 400 billionaires in the US in 2020 by Forbes and Global Citizen found that the majority of the super wealthy fail to reach this bar.
When Bezos planned for his first trip to outer space, he said that he expected it to change his relationship to the planet and humanity. Now that he’s returned from space, it’s time for him to show his newfound solidarity.