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Agent of Impact: MacKenzie Scott, author and philanthropist

ImpactAlpha, July 31 – Call it “best practices for billionaires.” As her ex-husband, Jeff Bezos, and three other tech billionaires prepared to face Congressional questioners, Scott detailed how she has started to give away her $36 billion fortune. Since signing the Giving Pledge a month after her divorce last year, Scott has given out $1.7 billion in direct gifts to 116 organizations. Her donations of nearly $587 million for racial equity made her one of the top U.S. racial justice funders, behind only the Ford Foundation.

For some of the six historically Black colleges and universities that each received between $20 million and $40 million it was the largest gift ever. Community finance development organizations, or CDFIs, like Local Initiative Support Corp and Capital Impact Partners got badly needed grant capital. Wrote Scott: “There’s no question in my mind that anyone’s personal wealth is the product of a collective effort, and of social structures which present opportunities to some people, and obstacles to countless others.” 

Many of the hundreds of billionaires who have signed the Giving Pledge would do well to study Scott’s example for actually doing such giving, and quickly. Scott has given directly, rather than through a foundation or donor-advised fund. She consults with diverse advisors and believes “people who have experience with inequities are the ones best equipped to design solutions.” Grants can be spent how the organizations deem best.

Scott, an author, studied under the late Toni Morrison at Princeton University, who liked to tell her students, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” Scott is well trained to write the book on how to be a better billionaire. It has the makings of an Amazon bestseller.

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