Jeff Bezos says he is giving away two $100 million prizes as part of a “courage and civility award”.
The prizes were announced at the end of a press conference to commemorate Blue Origin’s trip to space, which carried Mr Bezos and three fellow passengers on the company’s first ever crewed flight.
The first two prizes will be given to activist and TV personality Van Jones, and chef and humanitarian José Andrés. Mr Bezos suggested that further awards could be given away in the future.
Mr Bezos said that both of the recipients were not clear yet how the money would be spent. It could be given away to non-profits, either in one major sum or split between multiple ones, he said.
The Amazon founder has faced sustained criticism over his trip to space, and suggestions that he could better spend the money to fix problems on Earth. He has said such critics are “largely right”, but denied that space travel and improvements at home are in conflict.
The new award seemed aimed at addressing some of that criticism, however, with Mr Bezos giving away a small part of his vast fortune with a view to creating new solutions.
Mr Bezos said that the prize was a new “philanthropic initiative”. It came out of a belief that people are too quick to question people’s “character or motives” rather than their “ideas”.
He made the announcements as the press conference following the flight came to an end. During the discussion, he said that he had gained new perspective from the journey and that it had exceeded his expectations – before announcing the surprise award.
Mr Bezos did not give any indication of when or how often he would be giving away the “Courage and Civility” award. He said only that it aimed to recognise “leaders who aim high, pursue solutions with courage, and always do so with civility”.
The TV commentator, author and activist Van Jones said after his award was announced that he would be spending the money to connect “grassroots” organisations with “the geniuses who have disrupted” a variety of industries – so that they could look to “disrupt poverty” and the other problems facing the world.
José Andrés, the Spanish Chef who founded the non-profit World Central Kitchen, seemed to be on the edge of tears as he received his award. He said he was “honoured” and “really grateful”.