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$10B Bezos Earth Fund hires a long-time international chief on local weather points as president and CEO

Andrew Steer, newly appointed president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund. (World Resources Institute Photo)

Jeff Bezos announced Tuesday that his Bezos Earth Fund has hired Andrew Steer, the head of the World Resources Institute, as its first CEO and president.

Bezos launched the fund in February 2020 and in November named 16 environmental organizations that will receive $791 million as the first round of grantees for his $10 billion initiative.

“Andrew has decades of experience in environmental and climate science as well as economic and social policy in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa,” Bezos said in sharing news of the hire via an Instagram post.

Steer was president and CEO of the World Resources Institute for eight years. The global research organization was one of the recipients this fall of a $100 million Bezos Earth Fund grant.

In a Twitter post, Steer said that the $10 billion will be spent by 2030 the first time that a deadline has been set for granting the money.

“If allocated creatively, wisely and boldly the Earth Fund has the potential for transformative influence in this decisive decade,” Steer said. “This is our goal!”

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The World Resources Institute applauded Steer’s past leadership in a post confirming his departure. The organization noted that during his tenure the organization, whose reach spans more than 60 countries, grew its staff five-fold and its budget quadrupled between 2012 and 2021.

The nonprofit appears to be an organization that approaches its environmental challenges in a manner that could align with Bezos’ management values. The NGO touts its data-based approach to better managing natural resources with an eye to protecting vulnerable communities. The World Resources Institute emphasizes its goals of setting clear objectives, holding itself accountable and working to scale solutions.

There’s limited information available about Bezos’ fund. In announcing its creation last year, again, by Instagram, Bezos wrote: “This global initiative will fund scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world. We can save Earth. It’s going to take collective action from big companies, small companies, nation states, global organizations, and individuals.”

While there’s an urgency in addressing climate change, Bezos faces an interesting challenge with his philanthropy. With $10 billion, the fund greatly outweighs the total amount spent on climate by American philanthropists in recent years, according to The Atlantic.

That means there are few organizations capable of managing and spending such huge cash infusions. It leaves Bezos with limited options for grantees, pushing him toward established nonprofits who might not be on the cutting edge of climate innovation. It also possibly slows his ability to give the money away. The first round of grantees are receiving only 8% of the total fund.

It’s unclear what role Bezos will play in the fund going forward. Last month he announced that he would step down as CEO of Amazon after 27 years. Bezos also has his Day One Fund, a $2 billion effort to promote innovations in preschool education and affordable housing, as well as passion projects including Blue Origin and ownership of the Washington Post.

Fellow tech giant Bill Gates has also been in climate news headlines recently as he’s making the rounds promoting his new book offering a pathway to addressing climate change.

Amazon as a company has likewise engaged on climate change. The Seattle-based company vowed to become net-zero carbon and created its Climate Pledge, to encourage other corporations to do the same. It has the Climate Pledge Fund, a $2 billion initiative to support innovations that will help it reduce carbon emissions.

Bezos concluded his Instagram message regarding Steer with reference to his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, saying: “Lauren and I are thrilled to have Andrew aboard and very energized about what lies ahead for the Fund and our partners.”

Update: Bill Gates tweeted his congrats on Thursday:

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