The Amazon founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, and his wife, MacKenzie, pledged $2 billion on Thursday for a new fund to start preschools and help homeless families.
The money, put into he what called the Day 1 Fund, is by far the largest philanthropic donation by Mr. Bezos, the world’s richest person. It will support organizations that provide shelter and food for homeless families, and will start a network of nonprofit Montessori-inspired preschools for underserved communities.
“If our own great-grandchildren don’t have lives better than ours, something has gone very wrong,” Mr. Bezos wrote on Twitter announcing the fund.
As Mr. Bezos’s wealth and influence has grown, he has faced increased public pressure to make significant philanthropic investments. His net worth is valued at $164 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He bought The Washington Post in 2013 for $250 million, and has said he’s put about $1 billion a year into his private spaceflight company, Blue Origin.
His largest known philanthropic contribution to date was $33 million in scholarships to support the education of undocumented students who graduated from high school in the United States. Earlier this month, he made his first major political contribution, putting $10 million into a bipartisan political action committee to support military veterans running for Congress.
Other tech founders have come to see philanthropy as a major part of their legacy. Bill Gates, a founder of Microsoft, committed “the vast majority” of his assets to the foundation he started with his wife, Melinda. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla said they would give 99 percent of their Facebook shares, valued at around $45 billion at the time of their 2015 announcement, to philanthropic work. Other tech leaders, including Paul Allen of Microsoft, Larry Ellison of Oracle and Brian Chesky of Airbnb, have signed the Giving Pledge, vowing to give away at least half of their wealth either during their lifetime or in their will.
Mr. Bezos said the new education effort would build and run a national nonprofit network of free Montessori-inspired preschools.
“I’m excited about that because it will give us the opportunity to learn, invent, and improve,” he wrote. “We’ll use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon. Most important among those will be genuine, intense customer obsession. The child will be the customer.” Mr. Bezos went to Montessori schools and has said it developed his sense of exploration and focus.
The fund’s homeless work will involve “annual leadership awards” to groups doing “compassionate, needle-moving work to provide shelter and hunger support to address the immediate needs of young families,” Mr. Bezos said. He cited Mary’s Place, a nonprofit in the Seattle area that Amazon has worked with in recent years, as inspiration.
Amazon has donated temporary space to Mary’s Place and is building a shelter for 50 families with children that have life-threatening illnesses into a headquarters tower under construction.
“We have 600 shelter beds tonight, and they are full every night, all year long,” said Marty Hartman, the executive director of Mary’s Place. “For Jeff and MacKenzie to embrace that no child should sleep outside and take it across the country is an incredible vision.”
She declined to say if the Bezoses have personally toured Mary’s Place and met with homeless families it serves but said they have “had verbal communication” and are kept up-to-date on Amazon’s work with the organization.
Earlier this year, Amazon publicly opposed a new per-employee business tax in its hometown of Seattle that would have raised about $50 million a year for homeless services and affordable housing construction. The city council repealed the tax under pressure from Amazon, other business and some homeowners.
Last summer, Mr. Bezos went on Twitter to ask the public for suggestions for how he should give away some of his wealth, and tens of thousands of people replied. He said he was interested in using philanthropy to solve problems of the “here and now.”