Central Asia Institute
|Central Asia Institute|
|Region served||Central & South Asia|
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.
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.
Spokespersons for Central Asia Institute state that the organization supports:
- 170 schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan
- 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.
"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."
Pennies for Peace
|Pennies for Peace|
Pennies for Peace
|Parent organization||Central Asia Institute|
|Affiliations||Children's service-learning program of 501(C) 3 nonprofit Central Asia Institute|
|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. The program focuses on raising cross-cultural awareness through education to promote peace.
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 
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. Mortenson is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Three Cups of Tea.
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." 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."
As of November 2009, Pennies for Peace had raised over thirty million pennies since its inception in 1994. Pennies for Peace is registered in over 4,800 schools in USA and about twenty countries internationally.
Criticism and responses
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. 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. 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." 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
On April 19, 2011, the Attorney General of Montana announced an inquiry into CAI's finances. In April 2012, after a year long investigation by the Montana attorney general, Mortenson agreed to repay $1 million to the CAI. 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." 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. However, he was allowed to remain with CAI as an employee. The settlement was criticized by CharityWatch, an advocacy group, for permitting the existing three-member board, including Mortensen, to select the new board.
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.
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.
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..."
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. 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". 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.
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