18 April 2011

Mortenson: In His Own Words

Greg Mortenson releases the answers to the three questions (pdf) he was asked by 60 minutes. Most notable is this answer to his origin story.
1) Did you really stumble into Korphe after failing to summit K2? The two porters who accompanied you on your journey down from K2 have told us you did not. We have three other sources that support the porter's accounts. The evidence suggests that you did not step foot in Korphe until a year later.

GM: Yes, I first visited Korphe village, Braldu valley, Baltistan, Pakistan after failing to summit K2 in 1993, and met Haji Ali, a long time dear mentor and friend. My second visit to Korphe was in 1994. I made two visits to Korphe in 1995, the year we built the bridge over the Braldu River. And I again made two visits to Korphe in 1996, the year we built the Korphe School.

It is important to know that Balti people have a completely different notion about time. Even the Balti language -- an archaic dialect of Tibetan – has only a vague concept of tenses and time. For example, "now" can mean immediately or sometime over the course of a whole long season. The concept of past and future is rarely of concern. Often tenses are left out of discussion, although everyone knows what is implied. And if a person is a day or week late or early it doesn't matter. The Balti consider the western notion of time quite amusing.
The board of CAI were asked 16 questions (pdf).  For the most part, the questions cover the decisions to pay for advertising for the book and Mortenson's travel expenses as he goes to speaking engagements.  Here are a few questions and answers of note:
1. CAI says it tries to spend 85% of its money on “programs.” But from our reading of your last audited financial statement, it appears that only 41 percent of the money CAI spent in FY 2009 actually went to schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Is this correct? 
CAI: This is correct, but a significant portion of the remainder was dedicated to CAI’s other charitable programs, which include domestic and international outreach and education about the need for those schools and other initiatives to promote cross –cultural awareness. From the time the Central Asia Institute was first created, its mission and that of its co-founder, Greg Mortensen, has been education. The education mission includes both educating young people, especially girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and educating the American and international public about the critical role advancing public education in these countries plays to achieving peace. CAI has also been saving funds, now in excess of $20 million, that can be used to maintain the schools and its programs on a sustained basis for years to come.

2. On page 13 of your 2009 audited financial statement, you say that CAI has “an economic interest in a book written by the Executive Director, Greg Mortenson” and that the organization paid $1,729,542 for “book-related expenses associated with outreach and education.: Could you please explain what this financial interest is in the book?

CAI: CAI benefits directly from Greg’s books which are integral to accomplishing our mission. They are the primary means of raising awareness among Americans and the international community, providing readers with insight into the Institute’s mission and purpose. Our success in raising funds is directly related to the success of Three Cups of Tea, and Stonesinto Schools, both of which educate readers about advancing peace and stability in the region. Contributions from individuals who are inspired by Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools far exceed CAI’s book-related expenditures.

15. Has CAI ever commissioned an independent assessment of the effectiveness of its
schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

CAI: No. CAI is unaware of any organization qualified to undertake such a study. However, it is clear that the effectiveness of its schools and its programs have been independently assessed by citizens of Pakistan and Afghanistan, in that there are hundreds of requests for new schools in these countries as well as the programs CAI promotes. In addition, the Government of Pakistan has awarded Greg Mortenson the Star of Pakistan related to the promotion of education in that country. Review of test scores of the children at schools built or sponsored by CAI will reveal that the children at these CAI related schools score higher on average than students at other schools. Over the years, many independent observers have visited the schools.

16. We have knowledge of warnings that CAI received from your own attorneys on December 22, 2010 and January 3, 2011, saying that if CAI were audited, Mr. Mortenson would likely be found to be violating IRS regulations regarding excess benefits. Has the Board addressed this?

Yes we have. Last year – before we were contacted by your organization – CAI’s attorney raised preliminary questions of whether its fundraising practices and its relationship with Greg might raise “excess benefits” issues. The Board and Greg took these questions very seriously, and asked counsel to conduct a thorough review of CAI’s activities, its finances, and its relationship with Greg. As a result of this review and analysis, which occurred over several months, CAI’s counsel concluded that CAI is not providing excess benefits to Greg - that is, CAI appropriately receives a greater benefit from Greg’s activities than Greg does himself.