Greg Mortenson

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Greg Mortenson
Greg Mortenson portrait.jpg
Born (1957-12-27) December 27, 1957 (age 58)
St. Cloud, Minnesota, United States[1]
Residence Bozeman, Montana, USA
Nationality US
Alma mater University of South Dakota
Occupation Humanitarian, author, Director CAI (Central Asia Institute)
Employer Central Asia Institute
Home town Moshi, Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Spouse(s) Dr. Tara Bishop
Parent(s) Irvin and Dr. Jerene Mortenson

Greg Mortenson (born December 27, 1957) is an American professional speaker, writer, veteran, and former mountaineer. He is a co-founder and former executive director of the non-profit Central Asia Institute, from which he was forced to resign as executive director following an investigation by the Montana attorney general,[2] and the founder of the educational charity Pennies for Peace.[3][4]

Mortenson is the co-author of The New York Times Bestseller, Three Cups of Tea, which stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 220 weeks.[5] Three Cups of Tea has been published in 47 languages.[6][7] Mortenson is also the author of Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.[8]

Mortenson has been criticized by writers such as Peter Hessler and Jon Krakauer for financial mismanagement of his charity,[9] for "dodging accountability" and for writing a book Krakauer described as "riddled with lies".[10]

Early life[edit]

Mortsenson was born in 1957 in St. Cloud, Minnesota. His father, Irvin "Dempsey" and mother, Jerene, went with the Lutheran Church to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in 1958 to be teachers in at a girls' school in the Usambara mountains. In 1961, Dempsey became a fundraiser and development director for the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center,[11] the first teaching hospital in Tanzania. Jerene was the founding principal of International School Moshi.[12] Spending his early childhood and adolescence in Tanzania, Mortenson learned to speak fluent Swahili.[12][13][14][15]

In the early 1970s, when he was 15 years old, Mortenson and his family left Tanzania and moved back to Minnesota. He attended Ramsey High School in Roseville, Minnesota, from 1973 to 1975, where he graduated.[16]

After high school, Mortenson served in the U.S. Army in Germany from 1975 to 1977 and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal.[17] Following his discharge, he attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, from 1977 to 1979 on an athletic (football) scholarship.[18] In 1978, Concordia College's football team won the NAIA Division III national championship with a 7-0 win over Findlay, Ohio.[19][20] Mortenson graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in liberal studies and an associate degree in nursing.[12][13][16]

Humanitarian work and career[edit]

Origins in K2[edit]


Mortenson describes the origins of his humanitarian work in his best-selling (but later discredited) book, Three Cups of Tea. He states he traveled to northern Pakistan in 1993 to climb the world’s second-highest mountain, K2, as a memorial to his sister, Christa. After more than 70 days on the mountain located in the Karakoram range, Mortenson failed to reach the summit. Earlier, Mortenson and fellow climber, Scott Darsney, were also involved in a 75-hour life-saving rescue of another climber, Etienne Fine, which put them in a weakened state.[21] After the rescue, he descended the mountain and set out with local Balti porter Mouzafer Ali to the nearest city.

According to the account in Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson stated he took a wrong turn on the trail and ended up in the small village of Korphe. Physically exhausted, ill, and alone at the time of his arrival there, Mortenson was cared for by some of Korphe's residents while he recovered.[22][23] As a gesture of gratitude to the community for their assistance to him, Mortenson said he would build a school for the village after he noticed local students attending school in an outdoor location and writing out their lessons in the dirt. Mortenson has since stated in a 2011 interview that the timing in the Korphe account in Three Cups of Tea is inaccurate and that the events actually took place over a longer period of time and during separate trips.[24][25]

Literacy in Central Asia[edit]

Mortenson has written and spoken widely about the importance of education and literacy for girls worldwide. He has further stated that girls' education is the most important investment all countries can make to create stability, bring socio-economic reform, decrease infant mortality and population explosion, as well as improving health, hygiene, and sanitation standards.[26] Mortenson's view is that "fighting terrorism" perpetuates a cycle of violence where there should instead be a global priority to "promote peace" through education and literacy, with an emphasis on educating girls.

Three Cups of Tea describes his travels in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province including his escape from a 2003 firefight between Afghan opium warlords, how he was subject to two fatwās by conservative Islamist clerics for educating girls, and receiving hate mail and threats from fellow Americans for helping educate Muslim children.[27][28]

According to op-ed columnist and friend of Mortenson's, Nicholas D. Kristof,[29] the schools built by CAI have local support and have been able to avoid retribution by the Taliban and other groups opposed to girls' education because of community "buy-in", which involves getting villages to donate land, subsidized or free labor ("sweat equity"), wood and resources.

As of 2014, CAI reports it has established or significantly supported over 300 projects, including 191 schools,[30] in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.[31]

Advice solicited by US Military in Afghanistan[edit]

Due to attention paid to Mortenson's books first by their wives, US military leaders in Afghanistan have sought Mortenson's advice on how to work with the elders of local Afghan communities since 2007.[32] Seeking his knowledge on dealing with Afghan elders, the military has also included Mortenson as an active participant in meetings between the elders and US military commanders.[23]

Central Asia Institute[edit]

Mortenson with children in Pakistan in 2006

After experiencing frustration in his efforts to raise money for the school, Mortenson convinced Silicon Valley computer pioneer Jean Hoerni to fund the building of the Korphe school.[33] Following Mortenson's success in building the school, Hoerni invited him to serve as the first executive director of Central Asia Institute. The mission of the non-profit organization is to promote education and literacy, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.[34][35]

From 2006 through 2011, Greg Mortenson promoted his book as well as fundraising and promoting girls' education through public speaking events at schools throughout the United States. Travel expenses for his speaking engagements were paid for by Central Asia Institute through the end of 2010.[36] Mortenson personally kept monies received in exchange for his service as a public speaker as well as royalties from the sale of his book.[36] In 2009, the total cost of his book promotion, fundraising, and awareness-building for girls education paid for by CAI amounted to $4.6 million.[37]

In April 2012, after a year long investigation by the Montana attorney general, Mortenson agreed to repay $1 million to the CAI.[38] 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."[39]

Bullock also wrote in the report that "CAI's mission is worthwhile and important," and "Its accomplishments, driven by the vision and dedication of Mortenson, are significant – as even their harshest critics acknowledge."[40]

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Mortenson was required to resign as executive director and could no longer serve as a voting member of CAI's board.[41] However, he was allowed to remain with CAI as an employee.[42]


Mortenson and David Oliver Relin are co-authors of the New York Times bestselling book Three Cups of Tea.[43] Listen to the Wind, a 32-page book Young Reader's version of Three Cups of Tea for ages 4–8, was written by Greg Mortenson and illustrated by Susan Roth.[44] It was a New York Times bestseller for 97 weeks.[45] As detailed in a New York Times article, Relin "suffered emotionally and financially as basic facts in the book were called into question" and ultimately committed suicide on November 15, 2012.[46] In 2009, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan was written by Greg Mortenson as a sequel to Three Cups of Tea.[47]


In April 2011, CBS 60 Minutes and author Jon Krakauer accused Mortenson of fabrication in his non-fiction books and of financial improprieties at his charity, Central Asia Institute.[48] After a one-year investigation, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock did not file charges of fraud or criminal activity. The Attorney General sought restitution for book royalties, speaking and travel fees, promotional costs, and inappropriate personal bills Mortenson charged to the CAI. Mortenson was ordered to reinstate $1 million to the charity, which included credits for repayments already made.[49] In October 2013, Mortenson completed the repayments to CAI, fulfilling the terms of the 2012 settlement with Bullock.[50]

60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer[edit]

On the April 17, 2011 broadcast of CBS News' 60 Minutes, correspondent Steve Kroft alleged inaccuracies in Mortenson's books Three Cups of Tea and its sequel, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as financial improprieties in the operation of the Central Asia Institute.

60 Minutes made the following allegations:[51]

  • The story recounted in Three Cups of Tea about Mortenson getting lost and separated on the way down from K2 did not occur.[51]
  • The story recounted in Stones into Schools about Mortenson's capture by the Taliban did not occur. In fact, he was shown great respect and hospitality, consistent with the Pashtunwali values of his hosts.[52]
  • Among the schools that Central Asia Institute claimed to have established, some were never built, some were abandoned, some were being used for other purposes, and others were not supported by CAI after they were built.[51]
  • The amount of money Central Asia Institute was spending to cover Mortenson's promotional and travel expenses was excessive.[51]

60 Minutes asked Mortenson for an interview prior to their broadcast. Mortenson did not respond to their requests; however, he answered their questions in writing.[51][53] Mortenson refused to talk to Steve Kroft and, reportedly, the CAI staff requested that the hotel hosting the 60 Minutes crew ask them to leave the facility. Mortenson also canceled the speaking engagement that was scheduled that afternoon in the Atlanta convention facility.[54] In an April 2011 Outside magazine interview, Greg Mortenson insisted that Krakauer contacted him only once and inaccurately claimed that he had been trying to get a hold of him 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".[25]

Mortenson wrote a statement in response to the allegations against him that were 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..."[55]

Jon Krakauer, a former financial supporter of CAI, questioned Mortenson's accounts of his exploits independently and was interviewed for the 60 Minutes segment mentioned above. The day after the broadcast, Krakauer released his own allegations in a lengthy online article, Three Cups of Deceit - How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way.[56][57]

As a response to Krakauer's allegations, CAI produced a comprehensive ‘Master Project List’ on work CAI had completed, or currently was then working on. The list was released in December 2011.[53]

In January 2014, Mortenson was interviewed on Today by Tom Brokaw.[58] He apologized and acknowledged that he had let a lot of people down, and said "I failed in many ways, and it's an important lesson."[59]

In August 2014 Krakauer wrote a follow-up article for The Daily Beast in which he stated that an audit of CAI's overseas projects indicated that the charity was still "beset by widespread corruption" and that Mortenson remaining as the public face of the charity was not "in the best interest of the charity or the people it serves".[10] He concluded that "anyone thinking about donating to CAI should probably reconsider".[10]


In May 2011, Jean Price and Michele Reinhart, and Dan Donovan, a Great Falls attorney, filed a class action lawsuit against Mortenson on behalf of readers, asking federal judge James Malloy in Missoula to place all proceeds from the purchases of Mortenson's books into a trust to be used for humanitarian purposes.[60][61][62] Several named plaintiffs dropped the lawsuit after confessing they had never read the books.[63][64][65][66] The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice in federal court in May 2012. U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon chided the plaintiffs for presenting arguments that he called imprecise, flimsy, and speculative.[67] An appeals suit was dropped by the 9th District Federal Circuit Court on October 10, 2013.[68]

On October 6, 2013, after a lengthy lawsuit filed by Central Asia Institute, Philadelphia Insurance company was ordered by Magistrate Judge Jeremy Lynch to repay Central Asia Institute $1.2 million to pay for legal costs involved in the lawsuits and investigations.[69]

In May 2015, the Montana Attorney General stated that Central Asia Institute and Greg Mortenson had completed the terms of a three-year compliance monitoring period, and CAI stated that the IRS had completed its examination of the nonprofit. The organization reported that it was having a return in donors and rise in contributions.[70][71]



  • 2003 Al Neuharth Free Spirit of the Year Award for building schools for Pakistani girls.[72]
  • 2008 Citizen Center for Diplomacy National Award for Citizen Diplomacy[73]
  • 2008 Courage of Conscience Award[74]
  • 2008 Graven Award – Wartburg College, IA[75]
  • 2008 National Award for Citizen Diplomacy – Citizen Center for Diplomacy[76]
  • 2008 Mary Lockwood Founders Medal For Education – Daughters of The American Revolution
  • 2008 Sword of Loyola, St. Louis University, MO[77]
  • 2008 Charles Eliot Educator Award – New England Association of Schools & Colleges[78]
  • 2009 Academy of Achievement Award[79]
  • 2009 Sitara-e-Pakistan (The Star of Pakistan medal)[80]
  • 2009 Archon Award – Sigma Theta Tau International (Nursing Award)[81]
  • 2009 Austin College Leadership Award, Sherman TX – life work to take courageous stand on education issues for peace[82]
  • 2009 National Education Association (NEA) Human & Civil Rights Award[83]
  • 2009 City College San Francisco Amicus Collegii Award – Promoting peace through education
  • 2009 S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen (Jefferson Award), Carnegie Endowment & Harvard Kennedy School of Government[84]
  • 2009 U.S. News & World Report: America's Top 20 Best Leaders 2009[85][86]
  • 2009 Italy: Premio Gambrinus "Giuseppe Mazzotti"[87]
  • 2010 Loyola Marymount University (CA) – Doshi Bridgebuilder Of Peace Award[88]
  • 2010 The Common Wealth Awards: For Public Service[89]
  • 2010 The Salem Award for Human Rights[90]
  • 2010 The Christopher Award: "To affirm the highest values of the human spirit"[91]
  • 2010 The 10th annual Lantern Award "Excellence in Education Innovation" (MOSTE – LA, CA)[92]
  • 2010 Distinguished Service To Education Award: National Elementary School Principals Association[93]
  • 2010 Creativity Foundation & Smithsonian Institution: Benjamin Franklin Laureate Award For Public Service[94]
  • 2010 Literature To Life Award – American Theater Place[95]
  • 2010 Viking Award – Norway House for pursuit of hard, bold, dangerous and important undertakings[96]
  • 2010 Freedom Award – Freedom Festival for extraordinary devotion to the cause of liberty at home and abroad[97]
  • 2010 American Peace Award – representing the spirit of world peace through thoughts and actions[98]
  • 2010 The Mason Award – Extraordinary contribution in literature (George Mason University DC)[99]
  • 2011 Gelett Burgess Children's Book Award Three Cups of Tea Young Reader's Edition[100]
  • 2011 Presidential Award for Leadership in Social Change – Walden University [101]
  • 2011 Raoul Wallenberg Award for humanitarian endeavors – Old Dominion Univ., VA[102]

Honorary degrees[edit]

  • Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 2006
  • Concordia College, Moorhead, MN 2007
  • Montana State University, MT 2008 [103]
  • Villanova University, PA 2008 [104]
  • University of San Francisco, CA 2008 [105]
  • University of Washington – Bothell, WA 2008 [106]
  • Lewis & Clark College, OR 2008 [107]
  • Colby College, ME 2009 [108]
  • Simmons College, MA 2009 [109]
  • Saint Louis University, MO 2009 [110]
  • Loyola University Chicago, IL 2009 [111]
  • University of Pennsylvania, PA 2010 [112]
  • Brookdale College, Lincroft, NJ 2010 [113]
  • University of Colorado, Colorado Springs 2010 [114]
  • Stevenson University (MD) 2010 [115]
  • Wittenberg University (OH) 2010 [116]
  • University of Alberta, Edmonton (Canada) 2011 [117]

Published works[edit]

  • Akiner, Shirin; Tidemen, Sander (1998). Sustainable Development In Central Asia:. Curzon Press. ISBN 0-312-21931-8. 
  • Jones, Karen; Mortenson, Greg (2005). The Difference A Day Makes. New World Library. ISBN 1-57731-475-1. 
  • Mortenson, Greg; Relin, David Oliver (2006). Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time. Penguin Group. ISBN 0-670-03482-7. 
  • Mortenson, Greg; (with illustrator) Roth, Susan; (January 22, 2009). Listen To The Wind (children's picturebook). Dial. ISBN 978-0-8037-3058-8. 
  • Mortenson, Greg; Relin, David Oliver, adapted by Sarah Thomson (January 22, 2009). Three Cups of Tea: The Young Reader's Edition. Dial. ISBN 978-0-8037-3392-3. 
  • Mortenson, Greg; (December 1, 2009). Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-02115-4. 

Personal life[edit]

Mortenson lives in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife Tara Bishop, a clinical psychologist, and their two children, Amira and Khyber.[118][119][120] In 2011, Mortenson was diagnosed with hypoxia and had surgery for an aneurysm and an atrial septal defect.[121]


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  84. ^ Jefferson | community volunteer|service award
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  96. ^ Norway House
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  98. ^ The American Peace Award
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  100. ^ Gelett Burgess Center for Creative Expression, Gelett Burgess Children's Book Award, Helping Others Category
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  102. ^ News at Old Dominion University
  103. ^ MSU News Service - Four to receive MSU honorary doctorate degrees
  104. ^ Villanova University: Press Release for April 24, 2008
  105. ^ University of San Francisco (USF) - Past Recipients
  106. ^ The University of Washington: Honorary Degrees
  107. ^ Conferring of Degrees, Honoris Causa
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  113. ^ Author Greg Mortenson at Brookdale
  114. ^ Commencement to honor humanitarians, graduates, UCCS Communique
  115. ^ DSC_0155 | Flickr
  116. ^ Wittenberg Celebrates Class of 2010
  117. ^ "Honorary degree recipients set to inspire". University of Alberta. 13 April 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  118. ^ Tribune Staff. "125 Montana Newsmakers: Greg Mortenson". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved August 28, 2011. 
  119. ^ Greg Mortenson bio,
  120. ^ Greg Mortenson's Blog: Mortenson: Regular guy gets big results (10-07-07)
  121. ^ Emilie Ritter (10 June 2011). "Controversial "Three Cups" author has heart surgery". Reuters. Retrieved 5 August 2014. 

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