As the world’s most vulnerable are being pushed further into poverty, billionaires increased their wealth to record levels during the COVID-19 crisis. The good news is that at least some of the world’s wealthiest individuals are committed to fighting that disparity.
MacKenzie Scott is one of them.
An author and philanthropist, Scott announced on Tuesday that she had donated nearly $4.2 billion to 384 organizations in just the last four months. The list of charities include big names like Goodwill, Meals on Wheels, and the NAACP, but also smaller organizations that target issues specific to local communities.
“The pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott wrote in a Medium post. “Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”
With a net worth of nearly $57 billion, Scott is the 22nd richest person in the world. She was formerly married to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — the richest person in the world — and received a quarter of his stake in the company when they divorced.
Soon after her divorce, Scott promised to give away at least half of her fortune to charity through signing the Giving Pledge, which encourages the world's richest to dedicate a majority of their wealth to giving back.
In her latest round of charitable giving, she donated to organizations dedicated to filling basic needs, such as food banks, emergency relief funds, and support services for those most vulnerable.
She also made contributions to organizations that address long-term systemic inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Some of these groups focus on debt relief, employment training, education for historically marginalized people, civil rights advocacy, and legal defense for institutional discrimination.
The 384 organizations that received gifts from Scott were chosen after her team examined a pool of nearly 6,500 charitable groups and sought advice from hundreds of field experts, funders, and nonprofit leaders.
“We do this research and deeper diligence not only to identify organizations with high potential for impact, but also to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached,” Scott said. “Because our research is data-driven and rigorous, our giving process can be human and soft.”
The power that billionaires hold in the fight to end poverty is tremendous. Collectively worth more than $10 trillion, the world’s more than 2,000 billionaires have 80 times the funding needed annually to end extreme poverty.
But the problem is that many hold on to their wealth, make pledges for sometime in the future, or stow their money away in a foundation or donor-advised fund rather than give it away to charitable causes.
Global Citizen’s Give While You Live campaign encourages the world’s more than 2,000 billionaires to donate at least 5% of their wealth every year to help reach the United Nations’ Global Goals to end extreme poverty and its causes by 2030.
This year, Scott has given away nearly $6 billion to charitable causes — that’s close to 11% of her total wealth. Although she still has a ways to go in fulfilling her pledge to give away the majority of her wealth, Scott is already setting an example to others in her financial circle.
“She’s responding with urgency to the current moment,” Chuck Collins, director of the Charity Reform Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies, told the New York Times. “You think of all these tech fortunes — they’re the great disrupters — but she’s disrupting the norms around billionaire philanthropy by moving quickly, not creating a private foundation for her great-grandchildren to give the money away.”
At least in terms of publicly announced grants, Collins said he could think of no one who had given away more this year.