Jeff Bezos, tech mogul and founder of Amazon, is quickly on his way to becoming the wealthiest person in the world. With a fortune of over $84 billion, it seems natural that he would explore philanthropic activities. What was not expected, though, was his approach to the concept – by taking to Twitter to ask for ideas.
Bezos posted on the social media platform on 15 June to ask for ideas on where to direct his philanthropic activity. The post read, in part, ‘I’m thinking I want much of my philanthropic activity to be helping people in the here and now – short term – at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.’ The call to action requested that followers reply to the tweet with ideas – or with suggestions if they disagreed with Bezos’ virtual approach. At the time this article was published, Bezos’ post had been retweeted almost ten thousand times.
Reactions to Bezos’s approach have been mixed. Many media organizations have published open letters, including an open letter to Forbes titled: ‘Please Think Again About Your Philanthropy.’ In the letter, Forbes contributor and philanthropy critic Jake Hayman acknowledges that philanthropy is a choice, and usually a commendable one. However, writes Hayman, ‘it also comes with responsibility – a finite amount of money that can be used anywhere on a spectrum from ‘very well’ to ‘very badly.’
This responsibility continues down to deciding how money is spent to best to serve its purpose – one of Hayman’s concerns is asking for ideas via social media rather than through personal reflection and a decision process. Hayman also stresses the limits of asking on Twitter, citing a fairly homogenous American user base and disproportionate representation of both gender (more males than females) and often of higher social class.
However, some were unclear as to why Bezos didn’t invest in those closer to his business operation. Mark LeVine, in an article on Aljazeera, questioned ‘why doesn’t he spend it closer to home – like on his own workers?’
Despite the platform and its potential for misuse, Bezos has received some helpful suggestions through Twitter. Alexander Berger, a program officer at Open Philanthropy suggested he look at charities that fall under GiveWell, a nonprofit dedicated to finding giving opportunities and publishing research to assist donors in their decision-making. Organizations like Human Rights Watch and EveryLibrary, America’s library PAC, shared information on their own respective causes. And, of course, plenty of Twitter users suggested that Bezos give money directly to them. Even Madonna made a suggestion – to invest in the city of Detroit.
If you have any suggestions for Bezos or comments on his method, tweet him @JeffBezos.