I have been following closely the developments around Three Cups of Tea and accusations against its author, Greg Mortensen in the lastest "60 Minutes" episode. The documentary as well as the ebook Three Cups of Deceit (downloadable for free until April 20th) written by Jon Krakauer accuses Greg Mortensen seemingly of all the worst sins: falsification of the story of how he came to the idea of building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, lying about being taken hostage by Taliban, mismanaging CAI funds (Central Asia Institute, the nonprofit Mortensen founded to fund building schools), and worst of the worst lying about how many schools CAI has built and how many of them are functioning.
I have to admit that I haven't read Three Cups of Tea (and probably never will), even though I did get a copy of it for inspirational and enlightening reading. Ha, little did I know... Nevertheless, I have been introduced to Mortensen's work through Half The Sky, a truly wonderful book by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as well as reading and hearing about Three Cups of Tea on the TV and online. Just last month I was absolutely thrilled to learn that Mortensen was scheduled for a speaking engagement at my university. However, I learnt about it too late and the event was all booked as all his events are. So, you see, as many of you, I was his fan even without reading the book.
Then I hear about the upcoming documentary (couldn't watch it-no cable) and then I read the ebook that the documentary was probably based on, as Brett Keller suggests in his post The Tea Test. It felt as if I could see Mortensen falling off his "hero throne", truly saddening and devastating, not for him, but for me and for the whole nonprofit world. Because if he really did lie and did mismanage donors' money, and didn't build the schools he said he would, I can't imagine such a person being touched or upset by the situation he currently finds himself in. I would imagine he is scared for his reputation and money, but not upset. One question that really bothers me is WHY? Why did Mortensen do all this? If he really didn't give a damn about kids in rural Pakistan, why did he promise to build a school there? Even if the promise was given "in the heat of the moment", like sort of a revelation, why did he actually followed up on it? Surely the men from rural Pakistan were not going to follow Mortensen all the way to America and demand him to fulfill his promise?!
But enough about Mortensen: his personal motives and repercussions are not that important. For me, there is a bigger lesson to learn from this scandal:
If even the best of us, fall so low, if even the most renown and admired nonprofits turn out to be so poorly managed and do so little good (in comparison with what they claim), what about the rest of us? How does an average nonprofit worker perform his/her duties, how does an average nonprofit CEO manage donors' or taxpayers' money, how much good does an average nonprofit actually do?These are the questions we, as a nonprofit community, have to think about and try to find answers for.
Please, check out the following wonderful and really insightful posts on the subject from my fellow aid bloggers:
What Mortensen Got Wrong by Peter Hessler
Three Cups of BS by Alanna Shaikh
Lessons learned from ‘Three Cups of Tea by Akhila Kolisetty
Three Cups of … by Penelope M.C.
Three Cups of Lies? by Tom Murphy
A great compilation of posts and articles on the subject on Good Intentions Are Not Enough by Saundra S.