Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Michael Maren on Greg Mortenson's Unworthy Cause

From Michael Maren's blog:
A lot of the hand wringing over the Greg Mortenson scandal has been a lament over the damage he has done to the “worthy” cause of building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  But the cause is crap, and the faster Greg and his foundation disappear the better.

What the 60 Minutes piece made clear is that what The Central Asia Institute does primarily is build buildings.  Call them schools. Call them warehouses. Call them what you want, but a building is NOT a school. A building is a monument. A building gives you something made of stones to show your donors.  But you don’t need a building to have a school. 

You need teachers. You need books. You need a community’s dedication to educating its children. If a community does not have the resources to build a school in the first place, it will not have to resources to maintain it. As the empty school buildings attest, CAI was not paying for teachers and administrators to run the schools.  They were paying for bricks and mortar — They were investing in their own fund raising.

For a school or any development project to be successful, it must evolve from the strong desires of a community. The community must be able to dedicate the resources necessary to carry out the project. Of course, these communities can’t build school buildings, but they hire a teacher and buy a few books. The evolution process is slow. It requires a huge shift in attitudes and priorities. Placing a building in a community doesn’t accomplish any of this.

Plopping a building into a community doesn’t change anything except the landscape. It makes donors feel good. It gives the charities something to photograph for their brochures.  But in the end it’s all just a pile of rocks. Good riddance Greg Mortenson and your self-serving, self rightous crusade.