Jeff Bezos wants to fix preschools by treating them like Amazon

Bringing “the same set of principles that have driven Amazon” to philanthropy.
Bringing “the same set of principles that have driven Amazon” to philanthropy.
Image: Reuters/Lindsey Wasson
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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is launching a $2 billion “Day One Fund” to help homeless families in the US and create a series of innovative preschools.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Bezos said that he asked for suggestions on where to direct his philanthropy efforts last year, and that the Day One Fund was born out of those conversations. “Where’s the good in the world, and how can we spread it? Where are the opportunities to make things better?” he wrote. Bezos currently ranks as the world’s richest person, and has to date been less active in philanthropy than some other top billionaires.

The Amazon CEO announced his new organization would be “creating a network of new, non-profit, tier-one preschools in low-income communities,” inspired by the Montessori School model, a child-centered educational method that relies on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood. The Montessori method has been shown to be beneficial for children’s cognitive and social skills, and helpful in developing kids’ early literacy and mathematics skills.

The Bezos Family Foundation, established by Bezos’s parents Jackie and Mike, currently runs two early childhood development programs: Mind in the Making (MITM), a national research-sharing and training initiative, and Vroom, a creative platform based on neuroscience, that gives families the tools to build their babies’ brains.

Bezos didn’t offer many details on the preschool project, but his words show that he plans on treating these new schools like he does Amazon. He described the students as “customers” and explained that his new organization would ”use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon” to “learn, invent, and improve.”

Bezos’ latest announcement comes at a time of heightened criticism of Amazon’s business practices, and some critics say this latest move is savvy PR by the CEO of one of the world’s most profitable companies. But it also illustrates a deeper problem, which arises when private philanthropy fills a gap that the government should be filling, namely, the lack of quality, affordable early education in the United States. The problem lies both in the US government’s lack of investment in early education, and in big tech companies’ success at avoiding paying taxes, thus depriving states of crucial funds they could use to start their own early education programs.

According to the company’s annual regulatory filing, not only will Amazon not be paying anything in 2017 federal income taxes, but it will also be getting a $137 million tax refund from the US government.

In an interview earlier this year, Bezos said he viewed his ongoing investment in his Blue Origin space company as a way to use his wealth to do good.”The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel,” Bezos said. “I feel like I have a mission-driven purpose with Blue Origin that is, I think, incredibly important for civilization long term.”