60 Minutes, last night, aired an expose on Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson. While acknowledging his promotion of girls’ education in Pakistan and Afghanistan, their report brought into question his “origin story,” financial irregularities within his Central Asia Institute and exactly how many schools his NGO has built.
For those unfamiliar with Three Cups of Tea—recommended reading for the rank and file of both the US military and Oprah’s book club—an Outside magazine article chronicles Mortenson’s activities in Afghanistan.
The fascinating nexus between book clubs and the military was highlighted in a New York Times piece last summer:
The collaboration [between the US military and Mortenson], which grew in part out of the popularity of “Three Cups of Tea” among military wives who told their husbands to read it, extends to the office of Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Last summer, Admiral Mullen attended the opening of one of Mr. Mortenson’s schools in Pushghar, a remote village in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains.
On the ground here in Afghanistan development workers will confess that Mortenson’s inspirational story re-ignited their passion and drive for their often frustrating line of work. However, many hold reservations about the efficacy and sustainability—to say nothing of the possible harm—of this “cowboy” approach to development work.