Central Asia Institute

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Central Asia Institute
Abbreviation CAI
Formation May 1996
Type 501(c)3
Legal status Non-Profit
Purpose/focus Promotes education
Headquarters Bozeman, Montana
Region served Central & South Asia
Leader Greg Mortenson
Website http://www.ikat.org
Remarks IRS_EIN: 51-0376237

The Central Asia Institute (CAI) is an American non-profit organization, co-founded by Greg Mortenson and Jean Hoerni and based in Bozeman, Montana. Its mission is to promote and provide community-based education and literacy programs, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.[1]


Silicon Valley microchip pioneer Jean Hoerni co-founded the Institute in 1996 and named Greg Mortenson as its first executive director. The Institute's headquarters are located in Bozeman, Montana.[2][3]

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.[4][5]


Spokespersons for Central Asia Institute state that the organization supports:

  • 170 schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan[6]
  • 687 fully or partially supported teachers
  • Education for more than 58,000 students, including 44,000 girls
  • Ongoing education for 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.[7]

"A village must agree to increase girls’ enrollment by 10% a year" before CAI will build a school. "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."[8]

Pennies for Peace[edit]

Pennies for Peace
Pennies logo small.jpg
Pennies for Peace
Location Bozeman, Montana
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.[9][10] The program focuses on raising cross-cultural awareness through education to promote peace.[11]

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 [12]

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.[13] Mortenson is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Three Cups of Tea.[14][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]

Criticism and responses[edit]


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 it did on supporting schools overseas, and that Mortenson's accomplishments, though substantial, may have been greatly exaggerated.[21] CBS's story included an interview with Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy; Borochoff alleges that CAI spent $1.7 million in a recent year on "book related expenses" for books such as Three Cups of Tea. He further stated that CAI does not receive any proceeds from the sales of the book but does receive a small income from Mortenson's speaking engagements.[22] 60 Minutes asked Mortenson for an interview in light of the allegations; he did not respond to their requests. In a statement published by Bozeman Chronicle, however, Mortenson said, "I stand by the information conveyed in my book, and by the value of CAI's work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students."[23] Also included in the 60 Minutes report, best-selling author Jon Krakauer described the suspicious financial machinations within the CAI. In 2002, the treasurer of the CAI had quit along with other board members. The treasurer told Krakauer to stop donating, claiming that the accounting was inadequate. Others have resigned from the charity with similar complaints.[24] Krakauer published the e-book Three Cups of Deceit - How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way, a critical look at Mortenson and CAI, the day after the broadcast.[25]

The American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP), a charity watchdog that rates charities on an A+ to F scale, criticizes Central Asia Institute in its article, "Nobel Prize Nominee's Charity Wins No Award for Accountability," published in 2010.[26] AIP alleges that CAI lacks accountability and questions whether appropriate segregation exists between the charity’s financial activities and the personal business interests of the charity’s executive director, Greg Mortenson. AIP further alleges that Mortenson’s books and speaking schedules are advertised prominently on Central Asia Institute’s web site, and the charity pays significant expenses related to these activities but does not report receiving any revenue from them on its tax form. AIP states that when it contacted CAI, the charity would not answer its questions about financial activities, internal controls, or board oversight of related-party interests between the organization and Mortenson. As of the end of March, 2011, AIP reports that it continues to assign Central Asia Institute a “?”rating.[27]

In opposition to AIP's claims, another charity "watchdog" group, the Charity Navigator, gave Central Asia Institute a four-star rating with high scores on both capacity and efficiency.[28] Subsequent to the airing of the 60 Minutes segment, Charity Navigator posted a "Donor Advisory" with links to both the CBS broadcast and responses to the allegations from Mortenson and the CAI board.[29]

On April 19, 2011, the Attorney General of Montana announced an inquiry into CAI's finances.[30] In April 2012, after a year long investigation by the Montana attorney general, Mortenson agreed to repay $1 million to the CAI.[31] The Montana inquiry had found that he had misspent over $6 million of the organization's money, although no criminality was found. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said: "Mr Mortenson may not have intentionally deceived the board or his employees, but his disregard for and attitude about basic record-keeping and accounting for his activities essentially had the same effect."[32] In addition, 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.[33] However, he was allowed to remain with CAI as an employee.[34] The settlement was criticized by CharityWatch, an advocacy group, for permitting the existing three-member board, including Mortensen, to select the new board.[35]

Charity Navigator's president, Ken Berger, stated in response to the reports on CAI's issues that his organization was restructuring the way it assesses charities. The new system will rate how each charity attains its stated objectives. Under the new system, said Berger, CAI merits zero stars. Charity Navigator has placed a red "donor warning" label on its website for CAI with links to recent new reports.[36]


In an April 2011 Outside magazine interview, Greg Mortenson insists that Krakauer contacted him only once and inaccurately claimed that he had been trying to get a hold of the leader of CAI for some time. Mortenson states that although he arranged to meet with Krakauer, the interview was eventually cancelled "once I realized how deep and dirty this whole thing was". He describes a similar incident with 60 Minutes, claiming that he never received any of the emails that Steve Kroft said he sent and that representatives from the news show tried to contact him at inopportune times, such as calling his house when he wasn't there or "rush[ing]" him at a book signing.[37]

Mortenson wrote a statement in response to the allegations made against him that was published in the Bozeman Chronicle: "I stand by the information conveyed in my book, and by the value of CAI's work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students." Mortenson further stated, "The time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993..."[38]

Scott Darsney, a respected mountaineer and friend of Greg Mortenson, wrote an email subsequently turned into an exclusive article for Outside magazine's online version as a response to the allegations against Mortenson.[39] Darsney questioned the accuracy and fairness of both the Krakauer piece and the 60 Minutes report. As a result of an interview for the piece Three Cups of Deceit, Krakauer quotes Darsney as stating when their team took on K2 in 1993, "Mortenson 'didn't even know Korphe existed".[40] The Outside article includes a quote from Darsney telling another writer that although he did make the statement to Krakauer, he now believes that during the period the climbing team lost track of him, Mortenson may have ended up in that village. According to Darsney, after the climbing team reconvened, Mortenson told him that he "...ended up in a village on the wrong side of the Braldu River. It's certainly plausible that this was Korphe." As well, Darsney disputes he corroborated Krakauer's claims that Mortenson fabricated his Himalayan expeditions, saying that such misrepresentations of their conversations are either based on misquotes or misunderstanding.[39]


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.[41]


  1. ^ "About CAI", Central Asia Institute
  2. ^ "Central Asia Institute History", Central Asia Institute
  3. ^ "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"
  4. ^ "Paperback Nonfiction Bestsellers", The New York Times, March 16, 2008
  5. ^ "'Three Cups of Tea' Talk of Town", Mansfield News, February 21, 2008
  6. ^ "Central Asia Institute History"
  7. ^ "Devastation and hope: School promises brighter future for girls in Kashmir", Karin Ronnow, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, April 2, 2008
  8. ^ "He Fights Terror With Books" Fedarko
  9. ^ "What is the power of a penny?", www.penniesforpeace.org
  10. ^ Students raise $3,700 in 'pennies for peace'", ABC7News, KGO San Francisco, California, March 5, 2008
  11. ^ "Promoting peace one penny at a time", Kristin Holtz, Litchfield Independent Press, March 25, 2008
  12. ^ “Pennies Build Pakistan School, Project Wins WEAC award”, June 4, 1997
  13. ^ "Pocket change for social change", Lora Pabst, Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 5, 2008
  14. ^ "Paperback Nonfiction Bestsellers", The New York Times, March 16, 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. ^ http://travel.usatoday.com/destinations/dispatches/post/2011/04/60-minutes-challenges-three-cups-of-tea-author-greg-mortenson/165268/1, accessed April l7, 2011
  22. ^ http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/04/15/60minutes/main20054397_page3.shtml?tag=contentMain;contentBody, CBS News 60 Minutes Accessed April 17, 2011
  23. ^ Mortenson under fire from ‘60 Minutes’ — Bozeman philanthropist denies allegations - The Bozeman Daily Chronicle: News
  24. ^ CBS (2011-04-18). "60 Minutes". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  25. ^ Krakauer, Jon (April 20, 2011). Three Cups of Deceit How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way. Byliner. 
  26. ^ http://www.charitywatch.org/articles/CentralAsiaInstitute.html, accessed April 18, 2011
  27. ^ http://www.charitywatch.org/articles/CentralAsiaInstitute.html#CentralAsiaAuditUpdate, accessed April 18, 2011
  28. ^ Central Asia Institute summary
  29. ^ http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.advisory&orgid=10411, accessed April 19, 2011
  30. ^ Volz, Matt (April 19, 2011). "APNewsBreak: US official opens inquiry into charity run by 'Three Cups of Tea' co-author". Associated Press/Canadian Press. 
  31. ^ "Three Cups author must repay charity $1 million". Vancouver Sun. 2012-04-06. Retrieved June 21, 2012. 
  32. ^ BBC. "Three Cups of Tea author must pay $1m to his charity". BBC. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  33. ^ Bullock, Steve. "Montana Attorney General's Investigative Report of Greg Mortenson and Central Asia Institute". Retrieved 2012-10-24. 
  34. ^ Flandro, Carly (4-6-2012). "Mortenson, CAI mismanaged money, but will be able to continue work in the future". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-10-24. 
  35. ^ "Article Update April 2012". Nobel Prize Nominee's Charity Wins No Award for Accountability. CharityWatch. Retrieved 2012-10-24. 
  36. ^ McWhirter, Cameron, "The Big Spill Over 'Three Cups Of Tea'", Wall Street Journal, 30 April 2011, p. C3.
  37. ^ Heard, Alex (April 18, 2011). "Interview: Greg Mortenson Speaks". Outside (magazine). 
  38. ^ Gail Schontzler (April 15, 2011). "Mortenson under fire from ‘60 Minutes’ — Bozeman philanthropist denies allegations". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved April 21, 2011. 
  39. ^ a b Scott Darsney, “Scott Darsney Questions the Accuracy and Fairness of “Three Cups of Deceit””, Outside Magazine, April 26, 2011
  40. ^ Link to Krakauer's Kindle article, "Three Cups of Deceit ..."
  41. ^ "Mortenson receives Star of Pakistan",Bozeman Chronicle, Mar 23, 2009

External links[edit]