Not my cup of tea

After I read Greg Mortensen’s book, Three Cups of Tea, that describes his efforts to build schools in remote impoverished areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, I was so taken with the story that I bought the second book in the series – Stones into Schools – as a way of donating to the cause – or so I thought.

I read recently that his Central Asia Institute (CAI) was mismanaged and that the bulk of its funds was used to fund Mortensen’s speaking engagements and promote his book. It seems the CAI purchased thousands of copies of his book and paid for all Mortensen’s travel and accommodation to promote the book. Travel was often first class or chartered and included payment for his companions. Millions of  donor dollars seem to have been spent to sell a book instead of to build much-needed schools.

This sorry saga might not have happened but for two weaknesses in governance in the CAI. Firstly, with only three members, one of whom was Mortensen himself,  the board was too small to protect itself against undue influence of one of its members.

Secondly, Mortensen was the director of the organisation and a board member, yet stood to gain financially from the organisation purchasing his book (and subsidising its promotion). There was an obvious confilct of interest that the board should have challenged.

Had they expanded the board and separated management from governance, the funds might have been spent as intended, rather than used for the self-promotion of one person.

[In South Africa of course, a diligent board member of an NPO or NPC could have pointed to a standard clause in the constitution or MOI – that no board member is entitled to benefits except as reasonable compensation for services rendered.]