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MacKenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, gives millions to 2 Chicago colleges as part of $2.7B giving

The University of Illinois at Chicago received $40 million. Kennedy-King College, a branch of City Colleges of Chicago, got $5 million.

MacKenzie Scott.
MacKenzie Scott.
AP file

MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist known for her impromptu multibillion-dollar donations to charities and racial equity causes, said Tuesday she has given $2.7 billion to 286 organizations and institutions, including the University of Illinois at Chicago and Kennedy-King College.

The Chicago schools said the gifts are the largest they’ve ever gotten from one person.

UIC received $40 million. Kennedy-King College, a branch of City Colleges of Chicago, was given $5 million.

“Ms. Scott’s extremely generous donation will advance the lives of students who are poised to make great contributions to our city, our state and our world,” said Michael D. Amiridis, UIC’s chancellor.

Greg A. Thomas, Kennedy-King’s president, said college officials are deeply grateful to Ms. Scott for the gift. The college in Englewood has nearly 5,000 students.

The donations announced Tuesday mark the third round of no-strings-attached, major philanthropic gifts Scott has made. Together, her gifts rival the charitable contributions made by the largest foundations.

Scott’s wealth, estimated by Forbes at roughly $60 billion, has only grown since she divorced Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2019 and walked away with a 4% stake in the company. She has pledged to give away a majority of her wealth during her lifetime.

She wrote in a Medium post that she and her husband Dan Jewett made the donations to enable the recipients to continue their work and as a “signal of trust and encouragement” to them and others.

And she made clear in her announcement that she is troubled by the increasing concentration of vast wealth among a small proportion of individuals. She and Jewett worked with a team of researchers and philanthropy advisors “to give away a fortune that was enabled by systems in need of change.”

“In this effort,” she said, “we are governed by a humbling belief that it would be better if disproportionate wealth were not concentrated in a small number of hands and that the solutions are best designed and implemented by others.”

In 2020, Scott made two similar surprise announcements in which she donated a combined $6 billion to COVID-19 relief, gender equity, historically Black colleges and universities and other schools. Similar to the organizations she picked as recipients last year, Scott said the 286 organizations chosen for Tuesday’s announcement were selected from a rigorous process of research and analysis. That effort included “equity-oriented” nonprofits working in long-neglected areas.

“Because we believe that teams with experience on the front lines of challenges will know best how to put the money to good use, we encouraged them to spend it however they choose,” she wrote.

The latest recipients range from universities to refugee resettlement groups to arts and culture organizations that have suffered from a drop in giving as donors focused on more urgent needs brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The donations also went to nonprofits that focus on minority communities. The group Native Americans in Philanthropy, a recipient that connects philanthropic organizations to Native American-led nonprofits, said in a statement that the multi-million contribution will help them in their efforts to increase funding to tribal communities.

“MacKenzie Scott has recommitted to transformative work, the organizations that undertake it and the leaders whose ideas are often under-funded and overlooked,” Erik Stegman, the executive director of the group, said in a statement. “It’s important to note that she has also just written checks to these organizations, leaving her own interests to the side and giving up power to the organizations she’s funding.”