Hours after returning to earth, Jeff Bezos gave away $200 million to activist and political commentator Van Jones and globe trotting chef José Andrés.
At a press conference Tuesday after returning from his successful spaceflight, Bezos concluded with a surprise announcement of a new philanthropic initiative called the Courage & Civility Award. The award allows for recipients to direct $100 million to the charities and nonprofits of their choice.
Jones, a political contributor to CNN, is also a cofounder of Dream Corps, which focuses on criminal justice reform. Andrés founded World Central Kitchen, a non-governmental organization which combats world hunger, particularly in situations affected by natural disaster.
Bezos, the world’s richest person, said that the award will “recognize leaders who aim high, and who pursue solutions with courage, and who always do so with civility.” Recipients may give the money to their own charity or share the wealth with other organizations, with “no bureaucracy” involved, added Bezos, whose fortune derives from e-commerce and cloud computing giant Amazon, which he founded in 1994 and led before stepping down as CEO earlier this month. He’s also the founder of Blue Origin, the space company which created the New Shepard spacecraft that lifted Bezos and three others into outer space on Tuesday.
“This award itself cannot feed the world on its own, but this is the start of a new chapter for us,” Andrés said at the press conference. He said the award would allow World Central Kitchen to “think beyond the next hurricane” to bigger goals such as doubling food aid around the world, and helping 3 billion people to be able to cook with clean stoves. World Central Kitchen has served meals to people in places like Puerto Rico after it was hit by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Jones did not directly address where he would donate the money, but he spoke of the opportunity to start disrupting poverty, pollution and “the $90 billion prison industry.” He also appeared to address the criticism Bezos and other space tycoons have received for investing billions towards going to space while major problems persist on earth: “Don’t be mad about it—when you see somebody reaching for the heavens, be glad because there’s a lot more heaven up there to reach for.” Jones said Bezos had “lifted the ceilings off of the dreams of humanity today.”
For Bezos, the latest $200 million commitment follows a pledge of the same amount last week to support the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. Last year, he pledged to give $10 billion to combat climate change through the newly established Bezos Earth Fund; so far, he’s donated $791 million. His first large philanthropic initiative came in 2018, when he announced the Day One Fund to support existing nonprofits that aid homeless families and create a network of non-profit preschools in low-income communities and awarding grants to groups helping homeless families and create a network of nonprofit preschools in underserved areas (the latter goal has faced controversy). Bezos is also part of a group of more than two dozen billionaire backers of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a Bill Gates-led investment vehicle that has raised $2 billion to fund green energy startups.