Much has already been written about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s announcement in June that he is taking suggestions for how to spend money on charity. In our own pages here at Philanthropy Daily, Stacey Egger covered one of many reactions, that of Benjamin Soskis, to Bezos’s suggestion that he would like to focus his giving on the “here and now ... at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.” As Soskis has noted, the desire to give money for the immediate relief of those in need bucks the trends that reign in elite philanthropic circles of wanting to give “strategically,” to make long-term, structural changes on the "systems level" and root out social problems at their cause.
There will, naturally, be a lot of speculation on why or to what extent Bezos might or might not choose to go the “strategic philanthropy” route. As Soskis notes, in recent years, direct cash transfers to the poor have been making a comeback, as studies have shown that giving money directly to the poor is more effective than was once believed. Respected voices such as the former U.N. secretary-general and the International Rescue Committee have also given their support for a shift towards cash transfers as a form of aid. Bezos could be taking a purely scientific approach to the matter—he sees the most recent studies suggesting that immediate relief works, and he is being “strategic” in his giving plan by following them.
Another possibility is that Bezos has already made so much of systems-level impact on the world that he has already satisfied that impulse. Singlehandedly, Bezos’s Amazon, which sells every product you could ever imagine, offering goods at competitive prices and shipping them directly to your door quickly, and in ever-more innovative ways, has changed the way the world shops. Now, with his purchase of Whole Foods, we are sure to feel Bezos’s impact upon the way we buy groceries as well. What’s the point, Bezos may be asking himself, of giving strategically to change things at a systems level, when I’ve already changed the world at a systems level—and will continue to do so through my businesses?