Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos: Tech Grants

NET WORTH: $109 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Founder and CEO of Amazon

FUNDING AREAS: Medical Research, Science, Immigrants

OVERVIEW: Jeff Bezos and his ex-wife MacKenzie Bezos have made several significant grants, but they did not embark on large-scale and systematic philanthropy. However, Bezos's parents founded the Bezos Family Foundation in 2003, fueling grantmaking for early childhood development and education with Amazon stock. Bezos and MacKenzie serve on the foundation's board, along with other family members. In 2017, Bezos put out an open call on Twitter for ideas for his philanthropy that elicited tens of thousands of responses. Bezos and MacKenzie recently gave $33 million to a scholarship fund for young “dreamers." 

BACKGROUND: Jeff Bezos was born in Albuquerque and studied computer science and electrical engineering at Princeton University. He worked on Wall Street, and eventually became the youngest senior vice president at the investment firm D.E. Shaw. He went on to found Amazon, a company whose value has climbed dramatically in recent years. 


MEDICAL RESEARCH: One of Jeff and MacKenzie's first major grants, made along with other family members, was a $10 million donation to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to jumpstart a program to expand the use of certain types of immunotherapy for breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. The family made another $20 million grant for this work in 2014. And, in 2017, the Bezos family gave $35 million more to the Hutchinson Center. In 2011, Jeff and MacKenzie made a donation of $15 million to Princeton University, their alma mater, to create the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics, which focuses on a relatively new field of research known as "connectomics," and includes measuring neural connectivity and mining that data to better understand the brain, which may prove crucial in understanding and treating a variety of neurological diseases. 

EDUCATION: The Bezos Family Foundation has given millions in grants, both large and small, for education. It also funds the Bezos Scholars Program at the Aspen Institute every year. Jeff and MacKenzie both sit on the board of the foundation, which is funded with gifts of Amazon stock from his parents. As far as his personal education giving, Bezos has supported Worldreader, a nonprofit started by one of his former employees that brings reading to parts of the world which previously had no access through the use of e-readers. Bezos donated about $300,000 to start the program, and donated another $500,000 in subsequent years.

ARTS & CULTURE: In 2011, Bezos gave $10 million to the Museum of History & Industry to establish a Center for Innovation at its new location. 

IMMIGRANTS: Bezos and MacKenzie recently donated $33 million to a scholarship fund for young “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the United States as children. The funds will back TheDream.US, a scholarship program that has awarded more than 1,700 immigrants more than $19 million in financial assistance since it launched. The money will fund 1,000 college scholarships. The motivation is personal here, as Bezos' adoptive father Mike left Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan and arrived in the United States.

LOOKING FORWARD: Bezos is only in his 50s, and very much engaged in business, but is likely to increase giving down the line. Additionally, the work of Bezos' parents through the Bezos Family Foundation could indicate how Jeff and MacKenzie might separately move with their individual giving. Now that they’ve divorced, grantees should look out for MacKenzie’s own grantmaking.