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Amazon's Jeff Bezos unveils US$2b philanthropic fund

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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, is creating a philanthropic fund to help homeless families and launch preschools in low-income communities. He will commit an initial US$2 billion.

Washington

AMAZON founder Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, is creating a philanthropic fund to help homeless families and launch preschools in low-income communities. He will commit an initial US$2 billion.

He made the announcement on Twitter a year after asking for ideas on how he could use his personal fortune - now estimated at more than US$160 billion - for charitable efforts.

The "Bezos Day One Fund" created by Mr Bezos and his wife MacKenzie will focus on two areas: helping "existing nonprofits that help homeless families" and funding "a network of new, nonprofit, tier-one preschools in low-income communities," he wrote.

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Later, Mr Bezos told a Washington gathering that the US$2 billion was only a start and that he would likely expand his philanthropic efforts.

"I have seen small things get big and it's part of this 'day one' mentality," he said at an Economic Club of Washington dinner. "The Day One foundation is going to be like that," he added, noting that the mission could evolve. "We'll wander a bit, too."

For the homeless, grants will be given to organisations "doing compassionate, needle-moving work to provide shelter and hunger support to address the needs of young families," Mr Bezos wrote on Twitter.

The fund will also seek to launch and operate "a network of high-quality, full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities", he wrote.

He told the Washington dinner later: "I'm very excited about that because I'm going to operate that." Mr Bezos said early childhood education is a critical area and that "the money spent there is going to pay gigantic dividends for decades".

He said the schools would "use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon" and that "the child will be the customer".

The US$2 billion initiative, while significant, is far less than the philanthropic efforts of other billionaires. These include Microsoft's Bill Gates, who has donated tens of billions to his foundation, and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who has pledged to donate 99 per cent of his shares in the social media giant to an organisation focused on public good.

It also falls short of the "giving pledge" initiative launched by Mr Gates and billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who have encouraged wealthy individuals to pledge half their fortunes for philanthropy.

Despite his fortune, Mr Bezos has not been a major philanthropic donor and Amazon has been criticised in its home of Seattle for its perception as doing little to address problems of the growing homeless population.

Last year, he donated US$33 million to fund scholarship for "dreamers", the name given to undocumented children of immigrants who face legal obstacles in attending college or university. He has also made donations for cancer research and to Princeton University, his alma mater.

Mr Bezos said he selected these two areas after getting thousands of ideas from an appeal he launched on Twitter last year.

"People are interested in trying to help the world in so many different ways," he said. But declined to offer specifics on how much of his fortune he would donate. AFP