Jeff Bezos receives philanthropy award as ex-wife MacKenzie Scott continues donation spree

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and humanitarian chef José Andrés were jointly honored for their philanthropy at the Vatican this week.

Bezos and Andrés were the first recipients of the Prophets of Philanthropy award from the Galileo Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the work of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis.

Bezos, currently worth an estimated $138 billion according to Forbes, has focused his philanthropy on three main areas: climate change, preschool education and homelessness. In 2021, he committed to spend $10 billion by 2030 to help solve the climate crisis.

“Our oceans are acidifying, and our fish stocks are declining. Soil is degrading, and deserts are encroaching,” Bezos said in a speech accepting the award. “In almost all cases, it is the poor and vulnerable who are suffering most from these disasters, while they have done the least to cause them. Caring for nature is caring for people. This message is one that we must continue to spread.”

Bezos accepted the award as his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, has continued to make headlines for a philanthropic donation spree she started after the couple split in 2019. Scott has handed out more than $12 billion since the divorce. She does not frequently publicize her donations, but the organizations that receive her money sometimes do. To name just a few in recent weeks: VisionSpring, a group that provides eyeglasses to farmers and workers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, received a $15 million gift from Scott; the Fresno Unified Education Foundation in California announced a $20 million donation; and the Girl Scouts of the USA announced an $84.5 million grant from Scott. 

Andrés, a chef who has opened several successful restaurants, including two with Michelin stars, is the founder of World Central Kitchen. The nonprofit distributes meals to people experiencing extreme hardship, such as people recovering from natural disasters or living through wars. Recently the group has worked to feed people in Ukraine as Russia’s invasion of the country continues, working with local chefs to hand out more than 1 million meals per day, Bezos said in his remarks.

Andrés could not be reached immediately for comment. Representatives for Bezos referred to the Galileo Foundation’s announcement about the event. The Bezos Earth Fund announced the award in an Instagram post.

Bezos and Andrés have previously shared a stage during an awards ceremony, but last time it happened, Bezos was giving Andrés an award. Bezos gave both Andrés and racial justice activist Van Jones a “Courage and Civility Award” that came with $100 million for each of the recipients to spend on charitable endeavors of their choosing.

The Prophets of Philanthropy award was given out at an interfaith meeting that included 145 philanthropists of five different religious faiths. Bezos noted his family’s connection to the Catholic Church in his remarks, saying that the church took his father in when he arrived in the U.S. from Cuba as a teen who didn’t speak English. “They housed him and educated him, and gave him opportunities he wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Bezos said. “Later the circle continued, and he passed those opportunities on to me. Sitting here in the Vatican today, I would like to thank the Church for that gift.”

Relative to other billionaires, Bezos has not given away as large a share of his wealth as others, according to Forbes estimates. In the magazine’s latest Philanthropy Score, Bezos was given a 2, the second-worst ranking, because he’s given away somewhere between 1% and 4.99% of his wealth. Scott received the highest score, a 5, because she’s among the billionaires who’ve given away an estimated 20% or more of their money. Her fortune, estimated at $34 billion, comes mostly from Amazon
shares she received in her divorce from Bezos.

However, any estimates of an individual’s philanthropy come with caveats. It can be difficult to track a person’s giving precisely. It’s easy for donors to remain anonymous if they want to, and organizations that receive funding from philanthropists aren’t necessarily required to reveal their benefactors. 

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