The Fall of Mortenson

Photograph of Greg Mortenson

And so it happens, “Another hero bites the dust”, says MTV founder Tom Freston. This remark is in light of the recent scandal involving Greg Mortenson. Greg Mortenson is mountain climber, best-selling author, and philanthropist. His tales of bravery, courage, and love for the people of Afghanistan has garnered millions of dollars in donations to his Central Asia Institute (CAI). The institute has reportedly built more than 140 schools in Afghanistan. According to CBS News, his book, Three Cups of Tea, has sold four million copies and is required reading for U.S. servicemen heading to Afghanistan. In fact, his books, Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, is required reading for our class as well. We are shipping school supplies to children in Afghanistan so I feel we are following a path similar to Mortenson’s intended goal of helping children.

Recently, there have been complaints from former donors to the CAI and employees over the mismanagement of the institute. In an interview with CBS News, Jon Krakauer calls the stories in Mortenson’s books “beautiful” and “a lie”. Krakauer is the author of Into Thin Air and Into the Wild. He is also a mountaineer like Mortenson and personally donated 75,000 to the CAI. However, after learning that the stories which draw people to Greg Mortenson are lies, he halted his support. Krakauer said that one of the companions that traveled with Mortenson within his stories says that Mortenson never heard of the village of Korphe (In his book, Mortenson speaks of being nursed to health in the village after a failed climbing attempt of K2, the world’s second tallest mountain) until a year after his K2 climbing attempt.

But, why would Mortenson invent false tales? “To sell his book,” says Mahsud, a research director of a think tank in Islamabad. According to CBS News, Mortenson is using millions of dollars from his charity to pay for “book related expenses”. These expenses include, but are not limited to, the cost of traveling around the country in private jets to speak about his book (Mortenson makes $30,000 for each speaking engagement), book tours, and large advertisements. None of the money he is making is going into the charity, but he is paying for his expenses from the charity’s coffers.

Every nation needs its heroes. The nations where Mortenson has built his schools are in greater need than most. What might have begun as a noble undertaking has been corrupted beyond recognition. In this failure of man, the only losers are the children who now have a small chance of receiving school for their education. Mortenson gets to keep his millions. But, the children, all they keep are their stones.

Personally, I am disappointed to know about this recent scandall. I looked up to Greg Mortenson as a philanthropist. I am glad that we have not lost sight of our mission. We have kept strong! Our class’ efforts have produced $$3,543.12 (with $590 pending to be turned in) in funds, 145 boxes of school supplies shipped and more boxes coming in from Zoe & Zazu, Chase and Kati and Sarai! Thanks for making this an incredible class guys! I hope I see you all again.

Editor’s note: This class and its charity project operates under the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation and is part of a grassroots school supplies drive started by USAF SMSgt Rex Temple in June 2009 while he was deployed to Afghanistan. This project is not affiliated with Mortenson or his CAI Foundation. All the school supplies we collect are shipped to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and distributed during humanitarian missions. A full 100% of the shipping money we collect is used to ship the boxes to the troops. For more information, please visit the link below:

About Julio Novo

I am currently a Junior in the Honors College studying finance at the University of South Florida. I also hold a seat on the board of directors in the International Business Board in the university. My business interests are in investments and financial analysis and I am currently working to obtain a summer internship in one of these fields. However, my life isn't all about business. I am a very active tennis player and my interests range from programming to creating music. My ultimate goal is to have a significant impact on the world. A good one, of course. But for now, I'm taking things one step at a time, one managerial accounting test at a time.
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