‘I have a little surprise for you’: Jeff Bezos announces $100 million award for leaders who ‘aim high’

Jeff Bezos followed up his suborbital rocket trip with the news that he’s handing out $100 million each to two men who he said “aim high.”

“I have a little surprise for you,” Bezos said at the end of a press conference following the 11-minute ride that took Bezos and three others aboard a rocket built by his space company Blue Origin to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere.

Bezos then announced a new philanthropic initiative consisting of a $100 million award that recipients can use to fund nonprofits of their choosing. The first two awardees are Van Jones, founder of the racial justice nonprofit Dream Corps, and José Andrés, the chef and founder of World Central Kitchen. Bezos said the recipients are free to spend their winnings on either their own nonprofits or donate the money to other organizations.

“These are people who have demonstrated courage,” Bezos said. “By the way, it’s easy to be courageous, but also mean. Try being courageous and civil. Try being courageous and a unifier. That’s harder and way better and makes the world better.”

‘It’s easy to be courageous, but also mean.’

— Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com

The award is the latest in a recent flurry of philanthropy from the world’s richest person. Bezos, who is worth an estimated $204 billion, recently announced a $200 million donation to the Smithsonian Institution to build the Bezos Learning Center at the National Air and Space Museum.

Club for the Future, the foundation associated with his space company, Blue Origin, recently announced that it would offer grants of $1 million each to 19 space-related nonprofits. The money for the grants was generated by the auction that sold a seat aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepherd rocket trip.

In March, Bezos promised to spend $10 billion over the next 10 years to address climate change.

Bezos is the second of three billionaires headed to the edge of space this year. His trip, along with flights by Virgin Galactic
founder Richard Branson and Tesla
founder, SpaceX’s Elon Musk, has prompted criticism that billionaires’ resources would be better spent solving Earth’s pressing problems — or, some have said, on paying more taxes.

A recent investigation by ProPublica found that Bezos and Musk are among several billionaires who have paid relatively little in federal income taxes. (Bezos and Musk did not comment on ProPublica’s reporting.)

Blue Origin did not immediately respond to a request for more details on the new award or comment on recent criticisms that Bezos doesn’t pay his fair share in taxes.

Opponents of higher taxes on the wealthy say they could lead billionaires to devote less money to philanthropy. But others argue that billionaire space trips are a symptom of a broken tax system.

“This may be a good day for Jeff Bezos, but it’s a sad reminder of just how far our country has fallen,” said Stephen Prince, vice president of the Patriotic Millionaires, a group of wealthy people who advocate for higher taxes on the rich.

“If we ever want to return to an era where we accomplish incredible things together as a society, we need to start taxing the rich again,” he said. “If Jeff Bezos can afford to go to space, he can afford to pay more in taxes.”

Bezos said after Tuesday’s flight that he wanted to thank “every Amazon employee and every Amazon
customer, because you guys paid for all of this.”

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