The Mortenson Effect (Part 1)

by Tamara A. 

Disappointment. That is perhaps one of the worst feelings in the world. Whether you are the one being disappointed or the one doing the disappointing, it is just plain awful. I have to admit that I was pretty much a “goody two shoes” when I was younger and hardly ever found myself in trouble, definitely never got grounded by the parentals. However, there were a few “disappointments” in there. While I can’t remember the exact incidents, I do vividly remember the feeling that formed in the pit of my stomach that nearly pushed me to tears each time those words (“I’m disappointed in you.”, “You really disappointed me.”, “I’ve never been so disappointed.”) were directed at me. It’s brutal.

On the flip side, being disappointed in someone that you put your trust and confidence in is nearly just as terrible. When something like that is tested or broken, the uncomfortable twisted feeling in the pit of my stomach returns. No one likes to feel deceived or let down. But that is was disappointment does to people. It lets them down.

That is what happened with Greg Mortenson.

I was a little behind the masses in reading Three Cups of Tea. It was originally published in 2006 and stayed on the New York Times’ Bestseller List for nearly four years. I’d say it was popular. Everyone was praising this book and Mortenson’s mission and work that he had undertaken in Pakistan and Afghanistan. With all of the hype, I obviously had to read it too. A man building schools in foreign, developing countries…an incredible story and right up my alley. While it took me way too long to read the book (nearly 3 months) because of my A.D.D. nature with books and my inability to actually sit and read for longer than 15 minutes at a time, I came to feel truly passionate about CAI’s mission and incredibly supportive of Mortenson and his drive to make a difference for the children of these countries.

I finished the book in February of this year and was riding the wave of being inspired by this amazing story when the story unveiling Mortenson’s lies was cracked in April. I have to admit, I was honestly devastated. (Similar to the revelation that Tiger Woods was not the wholesome family man that we all believed he was, but this one hit way harder.) Throughout the book, the reader develops such a strong faith in him and belief in what he is doing and will continue to accomplish. I literally had written on my to do list, “Go to Tattered and buy Stones into Schools” when I read the articles about his fabrications.

The thing with this whole incident is that it is not all a flat-out lie, most of it is embellishments on the truth. He said they built eleven schools in a particular region when they actually built three. He said that their overhead costs were about 15% when they were nearly 50%. He said that he only earned $28,000 when he actually earned approximately $41,000 (plus benefits). In his write up covering this scandal, John Krakauer states, “What’s disturbing is not the amount the Mortenson was paid, but that he lied about it – and that dozens of such falsehoods are strewn throughout the book.” What was the need to discredit himself and his organization when letting the actual mission and work speak for itself would have gain supporters on its own?

The work that Mortenson was doing with CAI was good work: schools were being built and people were being helped. However, that whole image now is tarnished because it was all laced with dishonesty. Especially in the nonprofit world, when you are dealing with people freely giving their money to a cause that they deem as worthy and righteous, honesty is key.

Unfortunately, Greg Mortenson has damaged his name, and consequently, has created a lingering skepticism in the air that all other nonprofits are left to deal with.

Information pulled from John Krakauer’s expose entitled “Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson – Humanitarian Hero – Lost His Way.”


One thought on “The Mortenson Effect (Part 1)

  1. April 17…..July 26
    So much time, yet so little effort.

    How can I “like” a post that discusses deadly serious allegations made 3 months ago as if no new information has been made available in the meantime? Just for starters:
    >>Almost immediately after the CBS / Krakauer broadcast, 2 of the former CAI directors contradicted JK’s quotes attributed to them. One said that directors had resigned because of some basic policy differences for the future of the institute, not over misuse of funds. Another responded that he’d never made the remark that GM used CAI like his own ATM.
    >>A knowledgeable reader pointed out that CBS had investigated schools in WINTER ~ which is when schools are closed in the mountains.
    >>Before long, a Pakistani reporter decided to go looking for some of the institute schools. She found that villagers did not recognize GM’s name but readily identified their “CAI schools” ~ which were closed because exams had just been finished. She spoke with actual staff.
    >>Not to mention all of the material on CAI’s Website,

    It’s laughable to have a bibliography that lists ONE source! What would it have taken for you to Google CAI / GM? There is a lot of fascinating reading out there waiting for you.

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