Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Next Chapter for Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute

I've written before about my desire to salvage some good from the Greg Mortenson story and the charity, Central Asia Institute (CAI), he founded for the sake of the Pakistani and Afghan children the charity serves and the American children who have invested in it. We read two books by Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, and our Loyal Readers certainly believe that promoting education of girls in the remote regions of these countries is very important. So what's happened since 60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer questioned some of CAI's origin story and exposed the non-profit's dubious accounting? There have been some developments in the possible rehabilitation of Mortenson and CAI, so I've assembled a few links to bring us up to date.

First, the Montana Attorney General has issued a report. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the AG found that funds had been mismanaged and that Mortenson should pay $1 million in restitution to CAI, but that there was no basis for criminal prosecution. Admonitions were also made regarding the structure of the charity's governing board and Mortenson's future relationship to the organization. Mortenson has already repaid about half the money he owes to CAI and the board has a timetable for restructuring. For more about CAI's response, here's a brief audio interview from WBUR's Here & Now with Anne Beyersdorfer, CAI's acting director. If the governance reforms are implemented, this may go some way towards answering the critics (see, for example, Non-Profit Quarterly from last year). CAI's website has improved somewhat, with more information about the status of their projects, and a blog with regular updates from the field. Also of interest, last year Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty sent a reporter to assess the status of some CAI-built schools and found some thriving, while others appear to be struggling, suggesting a lack of oversight. Mortenson still faces a civil lawsuit from a group of disgruntled readers who claim that parts of his story were fabricated and that they were therefore mislead into buying his books and are asking for compensation and punitive damages. The lawsuit has just had it's first hearing but there is some skepticism that the case will move forward as that kind of accountability for a memoir would be unprecedented. The outlook for CAI over all does seem to be improving, and I hope that with new leadership and even greater transparency in the coming year, the good that the organization has already accomplished will be reinforced and future mentions of the charity on this blog can focus on the Afghan and Pakistani children whose needs captivated us from the start.
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