MacKenzie Scott Gives $1.7 Billion to Historically Black Colleges and Other Groups

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MacKenzie Scott, one of the world’s richest women, pledged one year ago to give away her money “until the safe is empty.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Scott, an author and philanthropist who was once married to Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, said she had so far given $1.7 billion to a long list of institutions, including historically Black colleges and universities as well as organizations that support women’s rights, L.G.B.T.Q. equality, and efforts to fight climate change and racial inequities.

“I gave each a contribution and encouraged them to spend it on whatever they believe best serves their efforts,” Ms. Scott said in a Medium post in which she listed more than 100 organizations that received donations.

Ms. Scott, who was married to Mr. Bezos for 25 years, is estimated to have a net worth of $36 billion and is the fourth-richest woman in the world, according to Forbes. Ms. Scott, 50, received 4 percent of Amazon’s shares as part of the couple’s divorce settlement.

A Princeton graduate who studied under Toni Morrison, Ms. Scott pursued a career as a writer even as she helped Mr. Bezos start his business.

Soon after the divorce, Ms. Scott, still using her married name, signed the Giving Pledge, noting that she had “a disproportionate amount of money to share.”

Other wealthy individuals like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have also signed the pledge, a project that encourages billionaires to promise to give away at least half of their wealth over their lifetimes.

Several of the organizations that received donations from Ms. Scott, including Howard University and Tuskegee University, said the gifts were the biggest contributions their institutions had ever received.

Howard University said it received $40 million, a donation it described as “transformative.”

The university said Ms. Scott’s gift would help support a student retention program that gives financial assistance to students who receive the maximum amount of aid under the federal Pell grant program.

“We hope that other donors will follow her example to lift the financial burden off of deserving students and help make ends meet so they can focus on graduating on time,” Wayne A.I. Frederick, the president of the university, said in a statement.

Lily D. McNair, president of Tuskegee University, said Ms. Scott had donated $20 million to the university.

“This gift comes at an opportune time for us,” Ms. McNair said in a statement. She said she envisioned the money would help fund student scholarships and campus improvement projects.

“The gift will allow us to become the Tuskegee of the 21st century,” she said.

In her post, Ms. Scott said that last fall she asked a team of nonprofit advisers to help her identify organizations that have directly helped marginalized groups.

“I began work to complete my pledge with the belief that my life had yielded two assets that could be of particular value to others: the money these systems helped deliver to me, and a conviction that people who have experience with inequities are the ones best equipped to design solutions,” Ms. Scott wrote.

She added that the work of giving away more than half her fortune “will last for years.”

Unlike other ultrawealthy donors, who often establish their own foundations, Ms. Scott gave directly to causes and underrepresented groups doing work on the ground, said Rob Reich, a Stanford University political science professor who has written about the drawbacks of modern philanthropy.

He also noted that her donation had no strings attached, an approach he praised as “anti-paternalistic.”

But Professor Reich emphasized that the public should realize that the Giving Pledge does little to a reduce a person’s overall wealth.

“If you pick the year that someone signed the Giving Pledge and look at their wealth today, almost all of those people today have more wealth than they did when they signed the Giving Pledge,” he said. “They’re richer today than when they signed the pledge because their wealth has grown more quickly.”

The public should generally be wary of billionaire philanthropy, said Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, which has examined how the wealth of those who signed the Giving Pledge has continued to grow exponentially.

“They’re giving their money away so that’s better than building a multigenerational dynasty or buying another yacht,” Mr. Collins said. “The generous impulse is real.”

But those donations are often used to write off taxes, shifting the burden to other taxpayers, Mr. Collins added.

“We should have healthy skepticism about these big gifts and announcements because we the taxpayer give a pretty substantial subsidy to the wealthy to pay for them,” he said.

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