Bezos Family Foundation: Grants for Early Childhood Education

OVERVIEW: The Bezos Family Foundation is solely dedicated to enriching education for students—starting before formal education begins, continuing through K-12 education, and positioning students for college success and enriched lives.

IP TAKE:  The parents of tech billionaire Jeff Bezos have quietly built a thoughtful and substantial foundation that supports U.S. education on a structural level, but securing funding will likely prove difficult without direct access to the Bezos family or its small group of staff.

PROFILE: The Bezos Family Foundation is the philanthropic project of Jackie and Miguel (Mike) Bezos—all bankrolled with shares of their Amazon stock. The foundation’s annual grantmaking has been growing lately, hitting more than $17 million in a recent year, with all of it devoted to improving U.S. public education.

Read IP’s “What’s the First Thing to Know About the Bezos Family Foundation?”

One avenue of Bezos Family Foundation support is its focus on Early Learning. The foundation's take on this arena is steeped in neuroscience. In this vein, the foundation's website states that "childhood is a critical window for children and families alike because of the vital role that relationships play in building brain architecture," thereby "laying the groundwork for learning, behavior and health." Consequently, the foundation is particularly interested "investing in basic developmental brain research that advances our understanding of how young children learn and develop" and "the translation of that research to key stakeholders and practitioners," as well as "lasting support systems for parents and caregivers, including communications and public awareness efforts."

Advances in neuroscience point to an unwavering truth:  at birth, children possess enormous potential. 

Through dynamic interplay of genes and environment, young brains are built from the bottom up – a process that begins in early childhood and continues into adolescence and early adulthood.  During the first few years of a life, a child’s brain develops at a rate of 700 neural connections per second – laying the groundwork for learning, behavior and health. 

Early childhood is a critical window for children and families alike because of the vital role that relationships play in building brain architecture.  We also know from longitudinal research that investing in early learning programs and opportunities – enabling more children to start life with a strong foundation – pays enormous future dividends.  And yet, we are sobered by the reality that far too many children operate at a deficit in the earliest years.

- See more at: http://www.bezosfamilyfoundation.org/early-learning#sthash.AMm9f9Pb.dpuf
We seek to dramatically improve the quality of early learning environments and the number of children who have access to rich early learning opportunities, whether they are at home, in informal care or center-based settings. - See more at: http://www.bezosfamilyfoundation.org/early-learning#sthash.AMm9f9Pb.dpuf

In addition to a diverse array of recipients that have received support ranging from a few hundred dollars up to six-figure sums, the foundation’s grantees in this arena, whom it describes as its “partners,” address the quest for educational transformation in a variety of ways. A sampling of the foundation's current partners gives a sense of how the Bezos Family Foundation seeks to achieve this goal.

Some of the foundation's newest Early Learning grantees include:

  • Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors
    Zero to Three (Washington, DC): "Provides parents, professionals, and policymakers the knowledge and the know-how to nurture early development."
  • Kaboom! (Washington, DC): Supporting "behavioral research and the development of enriching play environments for children and families."
  • Children's Defense Fund (Washington, DC): "Advocates for the health, safety, and education of children and their families in the US with a particular focus on those who are marginalized."

The Bezos Family Foundation’s longest-term grantees in the early childhood education sector include:

  • Harvard Center on the Developing Child (Cambridge, MA): Supporting Harvard University’s Frontiers of Innovation, which "seeks to test breakthrough approaches to early learning and accelerate the translation of scientific research to practice."
  • Raising A Reader (Roaring Fork Valley, CO): Supporting a program that "engages parents in a routine of daily 'book cuddling' with their children from birth to age five in order to foster healthy brain development, parent-child bonding and early literacy skills."
  • Thrive Washington (Seattle, WA): Supporting its "'Love. Talk. Play.' campaign, organizational systems-building, Home Visiting promising practices, and Advancing Racial Equity in Early Learning work."

While the list above demonstrates the nationwide scope of the Bezos Family Foundation’s grantees, there is also a notable emphasis on Bezos' home state of Washington. Importantly, the foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals, or even unsolicited inquiries, so securing funding may prove challenging without a direct connection to the Bezos family or the foundation's staff.

PEOPLE:

  • Jackie Bezos, President
  • Mike Bezos, Vice President
  • Megan Wyatt, Managing Director Strategy and Programs
  • Mark Hofer, Senior Advisor, Education
  • Marissa Jade Kaiser, Manager, Early Learning