The Commonwealth Blog

The Greg Mortenson Mystery

Apr 18, 2011 @ 4:33 PM by jzipperer with [0] comments
The Greg Mortenson Mystery

By James Dohnert

Greg Mortenson is a former mountaineer, best-selling author, globally recognized philanthropist and former Commonwealth Club speaker. His non-profit organization, Central Asia Institute, is dedicated to promoting and supporting community-based education in remote regions of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. He’s written two New York Times best-sellers, one of which he discussed in his September 24, 2008, speech to the Club.

Last week, he was accused of lying in his memoirs and making false claims about building schools in the Middle East. “We found there are serious questions about how millions of dollars have been spent, whether Mortenson is personally benefiting, and whether some of the most dramatic and inspiring stories in his books are even true,” declared Steve Kroft on last Sunday's "60 Minutes."  Mortenson stands accused of fabricating some of the most compelling stories in his memoir, Three Cups of Tea, and, worse, using his organization's money for private gain.

While Mortenson and his organization continue to state that "60 Minutes" is incorrect, the real issue may be how this affects other non-profits in the field. The lack of transparency and possibility of fabrications could hurt non-profits looking for donations to further causes in the Middle East. Will the alleged actions of Mortenson cause donors to think twice next time they open up their checkbooks?

Hopefully not, and hopefully upcoming events at the Commonwealth Club will lead possible donors to get more educated on some of the most pressing issues in the Middle East.

On April 25th join the Commonwealth Club for the Middle East Discussion Group
Make your voice heard in an enriching, provocative and fun discussion with fellow Club members as you weigh in on events shaping the face of the Middle East.

Also come visit the Club on May 6th for Conversations with Terrorists: Their Views on Politics, Violence and Empire
Veteran journalist Reese Erlich will take you inside the U.S.-led war on terror. Drawing on first-hand reporting in Northern Ireland, Columbia, Spain and the Middle East, Erlich challenges the definition of “terrorist” and argues that yesterday’s terrorist may be today’s national leader, and today’s freedom fighter might be tomorrow’s terrorist.  

And be sure to listen to the Commonwealth Club speech by Greg Mortenson from 2008, where he discusses the infamous stories.