Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and world’s wealthiest man, announced Tuesday after flying to the edge of space that he was awarding $100 million each to CNN contributor Van Jones and chef Jose Andres. Bezos said that Jones and Andres were free to do “what they want” with the money. “They can give it all to their own charity or they can share the wealth. It is up to them.” The money, Bezos said, was tied to a “surprise” philanthropic initiative he called the “Courage and Civility Award.”
Some cynics might argue that this was a public relations stunt by Bezos to repair his damaged ethos. Perhaps. But regardless of what one thinks about Bezos — and he certainly has done things with which we can take issue — this gift is a unique and remarkable philanthropic investment in people on the ground who know how to create change.
Individuals like Jones and Andreas are effective change agents who don’t have the necessary resources to raise enormous sums of money to maximize the impact of causes about which they care. Hence, Bezos may be onto something, namely, providing money directly to those who can enact real change, and can do so without restrictions, strings attached or bureaucratic red tape.
An innovative idea, indeed. I can’t think of two better-qualified people than Jones and Andreas to receive this award.
Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial Professor Emeritus, Moody College of Communication
The University of Texas at Austin