Posted by: Martin Fox | April 28, 2011

Greg Mortenson and Three Cups of Tea Fiasco – perspective from the nonprofit world

Ethics, integrity, and honesty are critical components of healthy people and healthy communities. In my work with young people, I hit this topic hard and often. Ethics, integrity, and honesty are a few of the things in life that can’t be taken away from you – you can only give them away.

In John Krakauer’s eBook, Three Cups of Deceit, there is ample and damning evidence from people both inside and outside Mortenson’s organization. “Greg didn’t know better or he is just so disorganized” doesn’t hold up after reading first-person fraud accounts by the people involved. Mortenson may be disorganized, but he was told repeatedly that what he was doing was wrong – he just chose to ignore it.

Many have come to Mortenson’s defense, stating “but look at the good he is doing.” That is a weak argument – the end (good) does not justify the means (lies and fraud). As a brilliant executive taught me early in my career, “If a person lies to me once, I’ll always wonder if they are telling the truth. If they lie to me twice, I’ll assume anything they say is a lie and any financial results they report are a lie.” Mortenson told lies from beginning to end, hurting many innocent people in the process.

As a nonprofit/ngo executive myself (pro-bono), the degree of fraud brought to light by 60 Minutes and John Krakauer’s Three Cups of Deceit were stunning – staggering really. I read Mortenson’s book a few years ago and so admired the work Greg and CAI were doing in Pakistan and Afghanistan. To find out much of the story was lies, left me feeling sad, frustrated, and angry.

The fiasco has left many of us in the nonprofit/ngo space taking a close look in the mirror to make sure we are telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Unfortunately, the Greg Mortenson fiasco leaves current and potential Nonprofit/NGO funders wondering if all NGO’s are doing the same thing as Mortenson.

Martin Fox with the Center for Global Leadership – accelerating the global ripple.


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