Trending: ‘I predict one day Amazon will fail’: Jeff Bezos offers sobering message amid tech giant’s growth

Jeff Bezos at Museum of Flight
Jeff Bezos at the opening of the “Apollo” exhibit at the Museum of Flight. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Over the past year, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been collecting ideas for philanthropic causes he should back with his fortune, driving tremendous interest (and nearly 50,000 replies) to his original Tweet.

On Wednesday, the richest man in the world said that he has “settled on two areas that I’m very excited about,” but he’s not revealing what they are just yet. In the meantime, we’re left guessing which issues the billionaire will tackle.

Will he follow in Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ path and join the fight for global health?

Probably not. At 54-year-old and with a fortune estimated at $112 billion, Bezos likes to walk to the beat of his own drummer.

However, clues may lie in the charitable donations Bezos and Amazon have made over the years. He’s given millions to various causes, but his philanthropic profile hasn’t elevated to the level of his billionaire peers, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. These two initiatives could change that.

We analyzed Bezos’s history of giving to try to predict what initiatives he is considering. Below are some likely candidates, though Bezos is known to back unexpected and wacky projects. It would be entirely in-character if he chose to support causes that no one could predict.

When he kicked in $42 million for a clock to run 10,000 years, he told Wired, “My opinion is that human attention spans haven’t changed much over time … but while our attention spans are staying roughly constant, our problems are becoming much bigger, because of our past successes as a species. Our tools, our technologies, now require us to step it up, and have a longer attention span.”

Bezos and Boyle
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, discusses his vision for space settlement with GeekWire’s Alan Boyle at the International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles. (Keith Zacharski / In The Barrel Photo)

Bezos also looks at his backing of space company Blue Origin as social good mission, telling GeekWire reporter Alan Boyle last month that it is imperative that our species invests in space travel in order to preserve the human species.

Below are our best guesses at causes Bezos might support (and some Twitter reaction’s to Bezos’ original tweet), to the extent that it’s possible to predict the actions of someone who looks at problems over centuries.

Housing

The dearth of affordable housing is a crisis acutely felt in Amazon’s hometown, Seattle, but it is also pervasive in cities across the country (and planet). Seattle has the third-highest homeless population in the nation, according to Zillow data, and many see Amazon, the poster child for the city’s tech industry, as partially to blame. That was the message of the most ardent supporters of Seattle’s recently defeated head tax, which would have funded affordable housing and homeless services.

Bezos tweeted about his philanthropic push the day after the City Council voted down the tax, faced with an aggressive campaign from Amazon and others in the business community. The timing of Bezos’ tweet could suggest that he plans to answer criticism that Amazon isn’t doing enough to address homelessness in Seattle with one of his initiatives. Homelessness and affordable housing are thorny, complex issues, which happen to be Bezos’ specialty.

Education

Amazon and the rest of the tech industry compete fiercely for a limited supply of talent compared to the demand. It would behoove Bezos to support an initiative to train more women and minorities in STEM — science, technology, engineering, math — skills to fill the shortage. Amazon is donating $10 million to Code.org, a non-profit that advocates for K-12 STEM education over five years. That’s on top of a separate $10 million the company gave to help the University of Washington grow its computer science program. Meanwhile, college debt is crushing students as they enter the workforce, and Bezos could do a lot to alleviate that pain, helping millions of students more easily get the education they need.

Free Press

As owner of The Washington Post, Bezos is often the target of President Donald Trump’s verbal assault on the media. In 2018, political tribalism runs deep, many question the integrity of the media, and Trump has made a habit of threatening to curb the freedom of the press. Bezos has criticized Trump’s attack on the press calling it an effort to ” freeze or chill the media that are examining him.” Last year, the tech titan donated $1 million to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a group that provides pro bono legal services to protect American journalists. A philanthropic initiative tied to freedom of the press or media literacy could be the logical next step.

Healthcare

Amazon is already working with JPMorgan Chase & Co and Berkshire Hathaway on a healthcare company focused initially on new technologies to serve their U.S. employees. Bezos could be planning a non-profit arm, considering he has already shown an interest in backing healthcare causes. Last year, the Bezos family donated $35 million to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the largest single donation in the center’s 41 years of operation. Fred Hutch CEO Dr. Gary Gilliland is on a mission to wipe out cancer by 2025, and a few billion from Bezos could help in that charge.

Equal Rights

Back in 2012, one of Amazon’s earliest employees emailed Bezos asking for his support in a campaign to legalize gay marriage in Washington state. Two days later, he responded “this is right for so many reasons” and pledged $2.5 million to the effort, in partnership with his wife, MacKenzie Bezos. Amazon has reportedly made gay and trans rights part of its criteria in its search for a second headquarters and the company has an active LGBT affinity group called Glamazon. That history of support could be a sign that Bezos will make LGBT rights one of his signature issues.

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