‘Three Cups of Tea’ Scandal
As many already know, Greg Mortensen, the famed author of “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones into Schools” came under criticism last month after a 60 Minutes episode accused him of monetary fraud and tax evasion of his non-profit the Central Asia Institute. The show also accused him of fabricating some claims in his book that he stumbled upon a remote village in Pakistan after a strenuous attempt to climb the K2 mountain and promised to build a school for the village. Instead, another climber claimed that Mortensen visited the village long after he had already attempted to climb K2.
While this controversy is long from over, it raises the question of integrity for charities. Sometimes the demands to secure privacy and autonomy for the non-profit while still ensuring fiscal responsibility and accountability to the donors can be conflicting. I think that running a non-profit organization is the most difficult type of operation to manage because it must utilize business practices while still being labeled a “non-profit” and ensuring that as much money as possible goes to those in need instead of the executives of the organizations. However, the executives cannot live as paupers and must have some form of income for such a huge investment of time and energy for the non-profit’s cause. It is a fine balance that non-profit organizations must walk.
As for the Greg Mortensen scandal, commentators have brought up some valid points about his organization in the first place. While it has achieved good in terms of increasing awareness of educational needs in Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially for girls, the concept of simply building schools is not enough. The root cause of issues like poverty and terrorism cannot be addressed and solved by building buildings. The quality of the teaching and even practical matters that must be taken into consideration such as parents needing their children to tend to farms for months at a time while living a nomadic lifestyle while not be able to attend school on a regular basis.
This entire controversy can be taken a learning experience for donors and non-profits alike. Do as much research as you can on any non-profits that you are interested in. The Better Business Bureau is a great place to start. Also, non-profits can change over time. A worthy, legitimate, and beneficial one can easily become corrupt and fraudulent over time.