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Billionaire MacKenzie Scott has grown her philanthropic portfolio by gifting $23 million to two Chicago area charter school networks, Noble Network of Charter Schools and LEARN Charter School Network. Both networks serve a combined 16,000 students from K-12th grade around the city.

Noble CEO Constance Jones said this is the single largest gift the organization has ever received.

“Her investment in our students will help fuel Noble’s mission as we strive to become an antiracist organization that unapologetically prepares students from underserved communities to complete college and lead choice-filled lives,” Jones said in a statement Monday. “We are committed to building schools that center and affirm our Black and Brown students and fuel their highest aspirations,” she said.

LEARN Network president and CEO Greg White shared similar sentiments. “It was a pleasant surprise. We’re thrilled. We’ve been working 20 years for this kind of opportunity.” White plans to direct some of the funding to resources to increase alumni college graduation rates.

Chicago Charter, Public Schools receive gift from billionaire MacKenzie Scott

Chicago Public Schools was also a recipient of Scott’s charity, receiving $25 million to help better serve its close to 350,000 students and families. A district spokesperson said the generous funds will most certainly help change lives and will be used to improve services for students with disabilities, strengthen career and technical education, and make school admissions more fair.

But, this isn’t the first time the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has dropped a pretty penny on Chicago based schools and organizations.

According to Chalkbeat Chicago, “Access Living, which advocates for students with disabilities, received $8 million; Friends of the Children – Chicago, which focuses on ending generational poverty, got $1.4 million, and Chicago-area Girl Scouts was given $4.2 million. One Million Degrees, which provides “wraparound” support to community college students is also on the list, but it’s not clear how much money the organization received. 

And last year Scott gave $40 million to the University of Illinois at Chicago and $5 million to Kennedy-King College, one of Chicago’s city colleges. 

Giving pledge

In 2019, Scott joined a billionaire philanthropic network called  The Giving Pledge. Its website states, “The Giving Pledge is a simple concept: an open invitation for billionaires, or those who would be if not for their giving, to publicly commit to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy either during their lifetimes or in their wills. It is inspired by the example set by millions of people at all income levels who give generously – and often at great personal sacrifice – to make the world better.”

MacKenzie described her motivation for giving.“We each come by the gifts we have to offer by an infinite series of influences and lucky breaks we can never fully understand. In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty.”

Scott has received both praise and criticism for donations. 

Forbes estimates that she’s given away $14.4 billion to more than 1,500 recipients since 2019, focusing on organizations that center LGBTQ and issues affecting minority-focused organizations. Her most recent donation totals $1,990,800,000, garnering praise for challenging “big philanthropy”.

However, critics worry that such large gifts may overwhelm organizations, lead to a misuse of funds or cause other donors to pull back. 

But CNN reported, “Of the 277 nonprofit organizations surveyed, slightly more than half of the respondents said their grant from Scott has made fundraising easier, with some saying they are able to use it as leverage with other donors. And the large gift has enabled organizations to focus funds where they were most needed to achieve their mission.” 

Eighty-eight percent of respondents stated it was the largest unrestricted grant they’ve ever received and one nonprofit leader said, “The amount of money didn’t even feel real — what felt more real was the pride and validation that the work I was doing mattered, and somebody had noticed.”

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work--"If not me then who?" As a strategist and injustice interrupter, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for radical...