There is no shortage of articles and blog posts about Greg Mortenson this week. In fact, the Good Intentions Are Not Enough Blog has collected 113 of them at this time of this writing. I wanted to share just one perspective here, though – from Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times, a journalist I thoroughly respect and who thoughts on development are certainly far more mature than my own. He writes,
My inclination is to reserve judgment until we know more, for disorganization may explain more faults than dishonesty. I am deeply troubled that only 41 percent of the money raised in 2009 went to build schools, and Greg, by nature, is more of a founding visionary than the disciplined C.E.O. necessary to run a $20 million-a-year charity. On the other hand, I’m willing to give some benefit of the doubt to a man who has risked his life on behalf of some of the world’s most voiceless people.
I’ve visited some of Greg’s schools in Afghanistan, and what I saw worked. Girls in his schools were thrilled to be getting an education. Women were learning vocational skills, such as sewing. Those schools felt like some of the happiest places in Afghanistan.
I also believe that Greg was profoundly right about some big things.
He was right about the need for American outreach in the Muslim world. He was right that building schools tends to promote stability more than dropping bombs. He was right about the transformative power of education, especially girls’ education. He was right about the need to listen to local people — yes, over cup after cup after cup of tea — rather than just issue instructions.
I worry that scandals like this — or like the disputes about microfinance in India and Bangladesh — will leave Americans disillusioned and cynical. And it’s true that in their struggle to raise money, aid groups sometimes oversell how easy it is to get results. Helping people is more difficult than it seems, and no group of people bicker among themselves more viciously than humanitarians.
In my last post, I had written about how disappointed I was at the possibility that the allegations against Greg’s Central Asia Institute were true. I still retain that disappointment. But Nicholas makes a good point: despite the shortcomings of Greg Mortenson and the CAI, he’s done some tremendous things. Let’s not forget that.
The full post, highly recommended, is available here.