Central Asia Institute

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Central Asia Institute
Abbreviation CAI
Formation June 1996
Type 501(c)(3)
Legal status Non-Profit
Purpose Promotes literacy and education
Headquarters Bozeman, Montana
Central Asia and South Asia
Affiliations Pennies for Peace
Mission Promote peace through education[1]
Website www.ikat.org

Central Asia Institute (CAI) is an international non-profit organization, co-founded by Greg Mortenson and Jean Hoerni and based in Bozeman, Montana.

According to the organization's website, its mission is to "empower local communities of Central Asia through literacy and education, especially for girls, promote peace through education, and convey the importance of these activities globally." [2]


CAI was registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 1996. Greg Mortenson, cofounder of CAI, began his work in Pakistan in 1993. The organization was established with funds from cofounder Jean Hoerni, a Swiss physicist and Silicon Valley microchip pioneer. The Institute's headquarters are located in Bozeman, Montana.[3][4]

Mortenson's extensive overseas experience began at an early age. He spent 15 years in Tanzania as a child and later served in the U.S. military. His first visit to Pakistan was during his expedition to climb K2, the world's second-highest mountain. It was on this expedition that Mortenson met the Balti people, who inspired his humanitarian efforts.

For three years, from 1993-1996, Mortenson spent long periods of time in the Karakoram Mountain villages of Pakistan. His first project was a bridge over the Braldu River, which enabled the community and him to transport building materials to Korphe village, where he built his first school.

Then, in 1996, Hoerni made the first significant contribution to Mortenson's efforts, and CAI was set up as a non-profit organization in the United States. Mortenson was appointed as its director. Unfortunately, Hoerni died just a year later from leukemia.

CAI's first Board of Directors decided to focus the organization's efforts in the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan in order to gain local knowledge and expertise on community-based projects in the area.

By the late 1990s, however, CAI had begun to expand into other remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2011, the organization began working in the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, in eastern Tajikistan. CAI also completed a few projects in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s.

Throughout its history, CAI has been a pioneer, paving the way for girls' education throughout the region. "Mortenson believes, as do many experts, that providing education for girls directly helps to lower infant mortality and bring down birth rates—which in turn reduces the ignorance and poverty that help fuel religious extremism."[5]

CAI's Master Project List details all CAI-supported projects.[6]

The story of the founding of CAI is outlined in the 2006 New York Times best-selling book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.[7][8]


CAI’s projects are categorized into seven types of programs. Each program helps CAI carry out its mission and promote peace through education.

School building, maintenance, equipment, and supplies: Projects in this category are related to the direct costs of building new schools, updating and/or maintaining existing schools, and providing necessary materials for the schools. This often includes ongoing support for uniforms, school equipment, and individual school supplies for students. Each of these projects includes local people throughout each step.

Scholarships: CAI provides scholarships for students in primary, secondary, and advanced education. These scholarships help students with the financial cost of school, encouraging them to continue their education when it would otherwise be impossible.

Teacher support: CAI provides funding for teachers’ training and teacher salaries in some areas, depending on need. Teacher salaries are paid by the government in Afghanistan.

Public health: CAI provides funds for maternal healthcare, nutrition and hygiene awareness, disaster relief projects, and the installation of clean water systems. These efforts have included education for the victims of the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake. (The quake killed 74,000 people, including 18,000 students, and displaced 2.8 million refugees. CAI has rebuilt or re-established 16 schools destroyed in the earthquake.)

Women’s literacy & vocational centers: CAI supports literacy centers, where women of all ages get free lessons to promote basic literacy. These centers also teach female students about hygiene, sanitation, nutrition, and money management. CAI also supports vocational centers, which train women on vocational skills, as well as provide equipment and materials.

Community support: CAI will occasionally fund small community projects when the community requests them. These projects include building bridges, establishing museums, providing porter training, among others.

Global outreach: CAI promotes the importance of education and literacy via the website as well as other social media venues. The organization also publishes an annual magazine, Journey of Hope, about its overseas programs and projects. CAI created the Pennies for Peace curriculum to teach students about the importance of service learning.[9]

Pennies for Peace[edit]

Pennies for Peace
Pennies logo small.jpg
Pennies for Peace
Parent organization
Central Asia Institute
Affiliations Children's service-learning program of 501(C) 3 nonprofit Central Asia Institute
Website penniesforpeace.org
Remarks Started by students at Westside Elementary School, River Falls, Wisconsin USA who collected 62,340 pennies to help build a school in Pakistan - in 1994

CAI also sponsors the Pennies for Peace program, where schoolchildren raise pennies to help fund CAI's activities.[10][11] The program focuses on raising cross-cultural awareness through education to promote peace.[12]

Pennies for Peace was originally founded in 1995 as “Pennies for Pakistan”. The founders were two elementary school teachers, Susy Eisele and Sandy Heikkila, of the Westside Elementary School of River Falls, Wisconsin, USA. They had been inspired by a talk given by Greg Mortenson on the harsh conditions he witnessed for children in Korphe, Pakistan. The original effort raised $620 in pennies which helped pay for materials to build a school in Korphe. The program was awarded the 1997 Richard Lewandowski Memorial Award for Humanitarian Activities. This award was presented to Westside Elementary by the Wisconsin Education Association Council [13]

Pennies for Peace in its current form was launched by CAI executive director Greg Mortenson to help broaden the horizons of youth in the developed world, and teach them about their capacities to be philanthropists by raising funds to cover the soft costs of building schools (paper, pencils, books, uniforms, desks, etc.) in remote, northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.[14] Mortenson is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Three Cups of Tea.[7][15][16]

The idea behind the Pennies for Peace program is that in the developed world, "a penny is pretty much worthless, but in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan a penny can buy a lot. With one single penny, schools can buy a student a pencil. With a pencil, the student can become literate and educated."[17] Mortenson believes one can promote peace through education, especially the education of girls, because: "If you educate a boy, you educate an individual; if you educate a girl, you educate a community."[18]

As of November 2009, Pennies for Peace had raised over thirty million pennies since its inception in 1994.[19] Pennies for Peace is registered in over 4,800 schools in USA and about twenty countries internationally.[20]


On April 17, 2011, CBS' 60 Minutes aired an investigative story on CAI and Mortenson. The story alleged that CAI spent more money on 'domestic outreach' (book tours, speaking, travel) than on supporting schools overseas, and that Mortenson's accomplishments may have been exaggerated. CBS's story included an interview with Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, who alleged that CAI spent $1.7 million one year on "book related expenses" for books such as Three Cups of Tea. He further stated that CAI did not receive any proceeds from the sales of the book, but did receive a small income from Mortenson's speaking engagements.[21] The 60 Minutes report featured best-selling author Jon Krakauer, who described what he called suspicious financial machinations within CAI. In 2002, the treasurer of the CAI had quit along with other board members.[22]

On April 19, 2011, the Attorney General of Montana announced an inquiry into CAI's finances.[23] After a year-long investigation, Mortenson agreed to repay $1 million to the CAI.[24] The Montana inquiry found no criminality, but required changes in CAI's governance, management, and financial controls going forward. [25] Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Mortensen was required to resign as executive director and could no longer serve as a voting member of CAI's board.[26]

In 2014, Charity Navigator gave Central Asia Institute a four-star rating with high scores on both capacity and efficiency, but added a "Donor Advisory" with details of the claims made in the CBS report, and links to claims by critics and Mortenson's responses.[27][28] The Better Business Bureau reviewed the organization's standing and updated its rating[29] to include CAI as an accredited charity.[30] GuideStar updated CAI's rating to three stars and the "Gold Participant" designation for its commitment to transparency.[31]


As a result of his work with CAI, co-founder Greg Mortenson received the Sitara-e-Pakistan (Star of Pakistan), Pakistan's third-highest civilian award in 2009.[32]


  1. ^ "About CAI", Central Asia Institute
  2. ^ "About CAI", Central Asia Institute
  3. ^ "Central Asia Institute History", Central Asia Institute
  4. ^ "Charitable Organizations Registered Through August 31, 2011 (updated 03/25/11)." State of Alaska. Retrieved on April 17, 2011. "Central Asia Institute 1050 E. Main Street, Ste 2 Bozeman MT"
  5. ^ "He Fights Terror With Books" Fedarko
  6. ^ https://www.ikat.org/about-cai/history/. Retrieved 2014-05-19.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ a b "Paperback Nonfiction Bestsellers", The New York Times, March 16, 2008
  8. ^ "'Three Cups of Tea' Talk of Town", Mansfield News, February 21, 2008
  9. ^ https://www.ikat.org/projects/cai-programs/.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ "What is the power of a penny?", www.penniesforpeace.org
  11. ^ Students raise $3,700 in 'pennies for peace'", ABC7News, KGO San Francisco, California, March 5, 2008
  12. ^ "Promoting peace one penny at a time", Kristin Holtz, Litchfield Independent Press, March 25, 2008
  13. ^ “Pennies Build Pakistan School, Project Wins WEAC award”, June 4, 1997
  14. ^ "Pocket change for social change", Lora Pabst, Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 5, 2008
  15. ^ "American mountaineer fights Taliban with books, not bombs", John Blake, CNN International, March 3, 2008
  16. ^ "Famous author, humanitarian visits Paly", Megha Ram, The Paly Voice (Palo Alto, CA), November 19, 2007
  17. ^ "Pennies being collected for the schools in Central Asia", The Huron Daily Tribune, March 6, 2008
  18. ^ "Educating the World One Step at a Time", Alison Walkley, Fairfield Citizen News, March 7, 2008
  19. ^ "Author builds schools by pinching pennies - Students donate coins for classrooms in Pakistan, Afghanistan", Anna Webb, Idaho Statesman, February 9, 2008
  20. ^ [1]
  21. ^ "Questions over Greg Mortenson's stories". CBS. 19 April 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  22. ^ CBS (2011-04-18). "60 Minutes". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  23. ^ Volz, Matt (April 19, 2011). "APNewsBreak: US official opens inquiry into charity run by 'Three Cups of Tea' co-author". Associated Press/Canadian Press. 
  24. ^ "Three Cups author must repay charity $1 million". Vancouver Sun. 2012-04-06. Retrieved June 21, 2012. 
  25. ^ BBC. "Three Cups of Tea author must pay $1m to his charity". BBC. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  26. ^ Bullock, Steve. "Montana Attorney General's Investigative Report of Greg Mortenson and Central Asia Institute". Retrieved 2012-10-24. 
  27. ^ Central Asia Institute summary
  28. ^ McWhirter, Cameron, "The Big Spill Over 'Three Cups Of Tea'", Wall Street Journal, 30 April 2011, p. C3.
  29. ^ Block, Sandra (25 April 2011). "'Three Cups of Tea' questions remind donors to check up on charities". USA Today. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  30. ^ "Central Asia Institute". Give.org. Better Business Bureau. November 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  31. ^ "Central Asia Institute". GuideStar. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  32. ^ "Mortenson receives Star of Pakistan",Bozeman Chronicle, Mar 23, 2009

External links[edit]