The charity world has been rocked by a 60 minutes report that renowned author and humanitarian Greg Mortenson may have falsified parts of his bestselling book, Three Cups of Tea. To compound the situation, his organization, the Central Asia Institute, has been accused of financial and managerial improprieties. Many of the schools that the institute built are either nonexistent or standing empty.
While the charges against Greg Mortenson are incredibly disappointing, it’s not a sign that we should give up all efforts to support good work in the world. There are plenty of good charities out there, and there was no shortage of early signs that CAI wasn’t one of them. The top three:
1. The Central Asia Institute Board only has three members, one of which is Greg Mortenson himself. That just isn’t enough people to provide oversight and accountability to an organization that raises and spends millions of dollars. This was publicly available information on the CAI website, nothing you’d have to work to discover.
2. They didn’t have any evaluation information on their website. There is remarkably little data – or even happy anecdotes – on what happened to the schools once built. There’s no table of how many schools were built, or what they cost. In general, the program information available on the site is very weak and vague.
3. Finally, they don’t talk anywhere on the site about why they have chosen the school building approach. There is no explanation for why they think building schools is the best way to improve education, no link to educational theory or research on the impact of improving school facilities. While this might just be an oversight in web design, it could also be – and was – an ominous sign of an organization that has failed to learn from the lessons of the past.