In 1992, years before Amazon had the capacity to deliver parcels to every home in America, billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s life looked a lot different.
Scott had just graduated from Princeton University, and moved to New York City in the hopes of becoming a novelist. Like many recent college grads, she struggled to pay bills. She waitressed to make ends meet, and the demands of that job left her with little time to write.
“I found myself with unpredictable and small chunks of time during which I either collapsed from exhaustion and frustration, or ruminated over the excruciating monotony of making and selling sandwiches,” Scott wrote at the time in a letter to her mentor, the late novelist and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. “And worried about how I might pay my rent with the nickels they gave me in exchange for my ennui.”
In multiple letters, recently published by The New York Times, Scott explained to Morrison a recent life change: She’d accepted a job at hedge fund D.E. Shaw, largely out of financial necessity. At D.E. Shaw, Scott was interviewed by — and ended up working next to — her future husband, Jeff Bezos.
In 1994, the newly married couple moved near Bellevue, Washington, to start what would become Amazon. Scott worked on the start-up part-time, spending her free time working on a novel – her own dream. In a letter to Morrison, Scott called Amazon “an interesting business,” and wrote that “having a part-time job has been good for my writing.”
In the three decades since Scott worried about making rent, she’s published two books — one in 2005, and another in 2013. Amazon’s market capitalization also grew to $1.5 trillion, and when Scott and Bezos divorced in 2019, she received 25% of Bezos’ Amazon shares, equating to roughly 4% of the company.
In 2019, Scott joined the Giving Pledge, a campaign where wealthy people promise to give away at least 50% of their wealth. In a statement on the Giving Pledge’s website, she wrote that she’d “keep at it until the safe is empty.”
Between June 2021 and March 2022, Scott donated nearly $4 billion to nonprofits including Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Planned Parenthood and Habitat for Humanity International, according to a Medium post last month. In total, her shell company Lost Horse has donated at least $12 billion to more than 1,200 charitable groups.
A significant proportion of Scott’s donations have gone toward organizations promoting equality and social justice. Many are led by women, people of color or members of the LGBTQ community. Last year, she wrote in a Medium post that those organizations deserve significantly more of a spotlight than she does.
“People struggling against inequities deserve center stage in stories about change they are creating,” Scott wrote. “This is equally — perhaps especially — true when their work is funded by wealth. Any wealth is a product of a collective effort that included them. The social structures that inflate wealth present obstacles to them. And despite those obstacles, they are providing solutions that benefit us all.”