Though she arguably had claim to enormous wealth before her split from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Bezos’ divorce settlement solidified her standing as the fourth-richest woman in the world, with a net worth of roughly $36 billion, according to Bloomberg. Now she’s marking her newly single status with a pledge to give at least half her wealth to charity.
MacKenzie is among the 19 billionaires announced today as fresh signatories of The Giving Pledge, a group founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in 2010 that asks the world’s wealthiest people to commit to donating the bulk of their money to charity. In a letter accompanying the announcement, she emphasized her desire to act fast on charitable giving:
I have no doubt that tremendous value comes when people act quickly on the impulse to give. No drive has more positive ripple effects than the desire to be of service … We each come by the gifts we have to offer by an infinite series of influences and lucky breaks we can never fully understand. In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty.
While the letter doesn’t explicitly mention the Bezos’ split, those familiar with her ex-husband’s approach to philanthropy should be able to spot the subtext. The former couple’s divorce agreement was finalized in April; less than two months later, MacKenzie is making a commitment that her ex-husband has long avoided.
Jeff has frequently faced criticism for his record on charitable giving. As Natasha Frost wrote for Quartz in 2018, “Of the top five richest Americans, only Bezos has not signed the Giving Pledge.” The New York Times reported in 2017 that he and his family had spent “$100 million in total on charities—about one-tenth of 1 percent of his fortune.” In 2018, he pledged to give $2 billion to help homeless families and create a network of preschools for children in low-income areas. The critics were quick to point out that this amount still represented just a small fraction of his total net worth.
And so it’s noteworthy that in contrast to Jeff, who has never made a public declaration about what he plans to do with all his wealth, one of MacKenzie’s first public moves in the aftermath of the divorce was to distinguish herself by immediately clarifying her desire to give away most of what she’s got. (For what it’s worth, her ex was quick to publicly declare his support, writing on Twitter, “MacKenzie is going to be amazing and thoughtful and effective at philanthropy, and I’m proud of her. Her letter is so beautiful. Go get ‘em MacKenzie.”)
The difference between the ex-spouses’ approaches to charity highlights why MacKenzie is now one of the world’s most interesting billionaires to watch. As Ephrat Livni reported in April in a Quartz members’ exclusive, MacKenzie, a novelist, shied away from the spotlight during her 25 years of marriage, only rarely giving interviews in order to promote her two books. Her split from Jeff, and the acquisition of independent wealth that came with it, has given her a chance to redefine her identity.
Exactly what shape that identity will take is still an open question. But the world is waiting eagerly to see what will happen now that she has gained control of some sizable purse strings. After all, women make up just 256 of the world’s 2,208 billionaires, which means that there are comparatively fewer opportunities to observe women making unilateral decisions about how to spend their fortunes. Sociologist Jill Yavorsky recently told Quartz’s Lila MacLellan that if there were more women in the 1%, they “might wield that power a little bit differently … Surveys have shown that women tend to support liberal causes and gender-related charities.” MacKenzie is already signaling to the world that she plans to use her newfound power to carry out priorities that are distinctly her own.
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