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Bezos targets homeless families, under-served preschoolers with $2 billion fund, but details are few

Matt Day and Benjamin Romano, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

SEATTLE -- The world's richest man announced a plan to donate about 1.2 percent of his current wealth to address family homelessness and early childhood education, drawing praise and raising questions about the mark Jeff Bezos intends to make and how a new and powerful funder will influence the recipients of his largesse.

More than a year after publicly soliciting suggestions for a short-term philanthropic strategy, the Amazon founder said Thursday that he and his wife, MacKenzie, would commit $2 billion to fund existing nonprofits working with homeless families and to create a network of nonprofit preschools in low-income communities.

The initiative, national in scope but already influenced by Seattle-based efforts, will be called the Bezos Day One Fund, a name that transplants the business philosophy that built Amazon squarely on to Bezos' biggest philanthropic effort yet.

The Day 1 Families Fund will make annual awards to organizations "doing compassionate, needle moving work to provide shelter and hunger support to address the immediate needs of young families," while the Day 1 Academies Fund will start and operate a network of "full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities," Bezos said on Twitter.

He described an organization to operate the preschool network modeled on Amazon's corporate principles, most importantly "genuine, intense customer obsession," he said. "The child will be the customer."

An Amazon spokesman didn't have details on who would run Bezos' new initiative, or where the group would be based. The $2 billion, he said, is a starting point, but no timeline was revealed for spending even that sum.

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The structure of Bezos' new philanthropic push is still coming into focus.

The name "Bezos Day 1 Foundation" was reserved Wednesday as a nonprofit corporation with the Washington Secretary of State's office, suggesting it will be based here. Another entity, the Bezos Foundation, was registered with the state on Jan. 23 as a nonprofit corporation. These are in addition to the Bezos Family Foundation, headed by Jackie and Mike Bezos -- Jeff Bezos' parents -- a nonprofit focused on education incorporated in 2000.

Bezos is worth $164 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a sum mostly derived from the roughly 16 percent stake in Amazon that he owns.

Public donations by the 54-year-old and his family have included $65 million over the last decade to the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and $33 million early this year to fund TheDream.us, a scholarship program for children brought to the United States illegally.

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