Amazon founder Jeff Bezos quietly created a new company to help execute his $10 billion pledge to combat climate change, Recode has learned, offering a clue into the plan known as the Bezos Earth Fund, which has been shrouded in secrecy since it was announced half a year ago.
Bezos’s team has started a new limited liability company, Fellowship Ventures LLC, that appears to be involved in the historic philanthropic commitment, according to public records reviewed by Recode. That LLC applied for the trademark — with Bezos’s hand-signed authorization — for the “Bezos Earth Fund” in July, a move that suggests the LLC will be key to his plans, or perhaps even run the charitable program outright.
The creation of the company is the first glimpse into the most serious philanthropic play yet by the world’s richest man, even as other details remain hidden. Bezos aides have consistently declined to share any information about his climate change giving — including basic questions about how it will be structured — since it was first announced in February.
The details are essential because the $10 billion pledge, one of the largest individual charitable commitments ever, is expected to remake the world of climate change philanthropy. Questions abound: Will Bezos use any of the $10 billion to make donations to pro-climate-science political candidates or advocacy groups? Over what time period will Bezos give the money away? And what type of disclosures will Bezos share with academics, researchers, and reporters about where the money goes?
If Bezos does plan to use this LLC to make the donations, it would limit transparency into the Earth Fund as LLCs are not required to file publicly available tax documents. Trademark experts tell Recode that it’s also possible, however, for the LLC to merely end up owning the trademark to the “Bezos Earth Fund” name and then lend that trademark to another to-be-created Bezos entity that may be structured in a more transparent way, such as a traditional foundation.
Bezos’s team isn’t saying. Amazon declined to comment on Fellowship Ventures, and Bezos’s personal lawyers who signed the documents didn’t return Recode’s requests for comment. Bezos previously said he would start making grants to climate change organizations this summer.
The Amazon founder isn’t done clinging to secrecy. The trademark application by Fellowship Ventures was filed first in Jamaica, a trick sometimes used by companies to shield information about their plans, trademark experts say, because Jamaica makes it impossible to access applications online.
(A side note: Bezos’s ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, made headlines last week by announcing her own $1.7 billion in charitable donations. Scott is one of the world’s wealthiest people. And she, too, is using a less-transparent vehicle — a donor-advised fund — to make at least some of those gifts, two grantees tell Recode.)
It’s likely that Fellowship Ventures is working on other projects on Bezos’s behalf, too, although the full scope of its work isn’t clear. Billionaires — and especially billionaires like Bezos, who is nearing a net worth of $200 billion — oversee vast empires to manage their personal affairs and family offices. They’ll create new LLCs to execute a particular real-estate deal, for instance, or to manage the work of a new contractor.
That’s what makes the creation of yet another LLC all the more intriguing. Bezos already controls LLCs that help oversee his existing charitable work, including Zefram LLC, which owns the trademark to the “Bezos Day One Fund,” his philanthropy to combat homelessness and support education unveiled in 2018. One possibility is that a new vehicle was needed after Bezos’s costly — and no doubt financially complicated — divorce last summer. Fellowship Ventures was incorporated in Delaware last summer, too, according to records obtained by Recode.
Zefram, for what it’s worth, is named after a fictional spaceship designer on Star Trek, a favorite of the Amazon founder. And the words “fellowship” and “venture,” too, have long held special meaning for Bezos — so much so that they’re part of his customary toast: “To adventure and fellowship!”
“The word ‘fellowship’ conjures a vision of traveling down the road together. It has more ‘journey’ in it than friendship,” Bezos shared when interviewed by his brother in 2017. “Friendship is great too, but fellowship captures friendship and traveling down that path together.”
Details like the name and the structure are some of the few scraps of insight into how the world’s wealthiest person is going to spend his billions. And that’s one of the big criticisms of billionaire philanthropy, that the mega-rich can release as much or as little information about their charitable gifts as they choose.