Greg Mortenson

Greg Mortenson Retiring

Greg Mortenson, the 6-foot tall, soft-spoken co-founder of Central Asia Institute, has been a pioneer in women’s education for over two decades. His books, Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, shot to the top of the New York Times best-seller list and catapulted an often-overlooked part of the world into the limelight. This enabled hundreds of thousands of children, many of them girls, to receive an education.

Though his passion for the organization’s mission remains as strong as ever, Mortenson announced he will retire from the institute and step down from its board of directors in early 2016.

“It is with mixed emotions – sadness to see one phase of my life come to an end, and excitement for all the future holds – that I tell you, I will be retiring from Central Asia Institute in January,” said Mortenson. “However, for me, the word ‘retire’ does not mean to fade away, but rather that I will have the time to engage and explore this amazing world even more.”

Although he will be transitioning into a new role, Mortenson will continue in his life-long pursuit to support girls’ education initiatives, and empower women and children the world over. In this spirit he will work with CAI as an international ‘statesman’, help CAI develop innovative overseas projects, and forge new relationships in the communities served by the charity.

Over the last 20 years, CAI has blossomed from a single school in the Karakorum Mountains to hundreds of schools and programs all over Central and South Asia. It has evolved from one man’s dream to a vast network of people united behind a cause. What’s more, CAI’s unique footprint has been that many of those schools and projects are in the last village, of the last valley, in some of the most isolated, underserved regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.

“For an organization to survive long enough to have a twentieth anniversary is a huge accomplishment. But CAI has not only survived it has grown into a community. Today there are so amazing people, both here in the U.S. and abroad, who have come together to demand education for all,” Mortenson said.

But 20 years is not enough. CAI is not going to stop now. Jim Thaden, CAI executive director, had this to say about the organization’s future:

“Greg was the visionary for this whole operation. He started this movement in a place that most organizations would shy away from, and inspired people around the globe. But the projects CAI initiated and supported over the last two decades are just the beginning. There is so much work still to be done, and CAI has exciting plans for another 20-years’ worth of projects, programs, and game-changing, community-based initiatives.”

Over the course of the next few years CAI will focus on more than just setting up schools, which is perhaps what it is best known for, and will continue to promote a holistic approach to education. Plans include: enhancing access to education for nomads, refugees, pre-school-age children, and individuals with special needs; implementing and expanding teacher training courses; supporting women’s entrepreneurship; giving young women access to higher education by way of CAI’s scholarship program; and much more.

“CAI is a small, but critical part of the process to achieve global prosperity and peace. With 124 million children out of school today, the number of conflicts and refugees increasing daily, the situation is critical,” explained CAI Board Chair Steve Barrett. “We have a golden opportunity to act now, as the United Nations initiates a new fifteen-year Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) plan, of which universal education is a high priority. Universal education doesn’t just happen overnight. As Malala said, it starts with ‘one child, one pen, one teacher, and one book at a time,’ and that is what CAI does best.”

Even so, the fight for education is not the story of one organization, or one man or woman. It is the story of a mission and of communities. This is one of the many reasons that CAI has increasingly invested in its overseas partners. Having grown up and lived most of their lives not far from the villages they now serve, overseas project managers have their fingers on the pulse of regional life and can respond quickly and efficiently in the case of an emergency.

“The organization is now in a good place, with the assets, resources, and good people at home and abroad to move strongly into the future,” Greg wrote in CAI’s annual fall publication, Journey of Hope.

“As an organization, CAI has faced many challenges, but the work never stopped,” he added.

Over the course of its existence, CAI has overcome many challenges, the most prominent of which was a widely publicized controversy over details in Mortenson’s books and CAI operations. The allegations in 2011 caused donations to plummet.

Over the last four years, CAI has overhauled its operations with new board members and staff, shored-up procedures and personnel policies, and revamped its financial systems. This has resulted in CAI meeting and exceeding every reporting requirement presented, including those of the Montana Attorney General’s office, the nonprofit watchdog agency GuideStar, the Better Business Bureau, and the IRS.

With Mortenson’s transition into this new role, CAI will continue to evolve. However, staff commitment remains steadfast, and the organization will continue to promote the many diverse voices that have rallied behind the mission.

As he said, Mortenson’s voice will still be heard, as he does not intend to disappear into retirement. Instead, he plans to remain “a humble servant of humanity,” working on solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems – child slavery, dropout rates for schoolgirls who reach puberty, female illiteracy, violence against women, and early marriage. On a personal note, he is looking forward to having more time to write and will spend long-overdue, quality time with his family and friends.

“There is not enough paper in the world to adequately thank everyone I would like to thank, the thousands of generous and caring people who supported me and CAI over the years as we undertook this incredible journey together,” he said. “Since 1996 they have helped CAI bring education, literacy, and hope to hundreds of thousands of people. Their support has been the gift of a lifetime and profoundly impacted every boy, girl, woman, and man, we have served. It’s my sincerest wish that CAI will always have such generous support and that its mission will continue on into perpetuity with strength and love.”

Share your memories or thoughts about Greg in the comments below:

(Note: By submitting a comment you give CAI permission to publish your comment on its websites or communication materials.)

Read Greg’s letter announcing his retirement in the fall 2015 Journey of Hope.

20 responses to “Greg Mortenson to Retire 20 Years After Founding CAI”

  1. Greg and his American family and his international dear friends have been close to my heart and prayers for all the years of his precious service to education/uplift of humanity.

  2. The mission of the Institute and Greg’s efforts continue to inspire.

  3. CAI does a fascinating work. I have prayed for that work for years. I pray that it will recover from the 20ll setback and become stronger than ever. I’ve read Greg’s books, heard him speak and his mother as well. Her passing was a shock.

    Dennis Hier, Willmar, MN.

  4. I am reading Gregs book three cups of tea for the second time and am still amazed on how focused he stayed through all he did ! A Man to be admired

  5. I read “Three Cups of Tea” and heard also about wrong details in the book. When there are really some wrong details, but there is still this incredible job Greg Mortensen did. And we can also forgive him some stupid things with the money. Yes, he is an american hero. The people of America can be proud of him.
    God bless you, Greg Mortensen.

  6. The hateful attack on Greg Mortenson by 60 minutes is jealousy and targeted to undermine world peace by those who profits from munitions manufacture.
    Follow the money and find out who was behind the 60 minutes expose.
    Not excusing the mistakes Greg made but the mistakes are mistakes and not worthy of character assasination and a very deliberate attempt to stop the mission of educating the worlds girls and promoting peace in a war torn region.
    So grateful our fellow Americans feel the same and continue to donate to support this very important work.
    God Bless you Greg Mortenson and Please remember Mies Van Der Rhône’s advice” God is in the Details”. Nothing is unnoticed. So pay attention,! Never give anyone an excuse to come after you.

  7. God’s hand has definitely been holding Greg’s
    Hand in this unbelievable humanitarian endeavor throughout the years. I just finished THREE CUPS OF TEA, which enlightened me to the suffering of the Pakistani, etc. all those years ago. I realize the suffering still exists in different ways, and I ask God to continue to bless the CAI, giving them the wisdom needed to continue this amazing work. Also, may God reward Tara and the children for the many years of sacrifice they have endured. What an amazing, courageous and unselfish woman she

  8. Nowadays what are Mr Greg Mortenson doing today any NGO starting or no?

    • Dear Muhammad,
      Greg retired in 2016, but he is still active in the field of women’s rights and education. I believe he posts regularly on social media and has been involved with several related causes.

      Hannah Denys

  9. I loved the book and the message when I read it several years ago and support the goals and actual good being Done as way senior to the carping critics who want to tear down anything good. By his actions he should be known , not by his mistakes. Yay Greg. Thank you for the good you have done and all those you have helped. May the CAI continue to flourish and prosper!

  10. Three Cups of Tea was my first encounter with Greg Mortenson in the mid 1990’s. I bought copies for my teaching staff and had the privilege of meeting Greg, a humble servant of humanity. Through his writing and speaking, he has opened many western eyes to the plight of young girls in Afghanistan and other third-world countries. I thank him for his passion and wish him a long, healthy life. He may not mention Jesus Christ I his books, but he lives the servanthood we are all called to by God.

  11. I knew and worked with Greg in the early 1980’s. He is a kind, caring and decent human being. It saddened me to read about all the trials and tribulations he has endured. I believe his sincere intention was and is to serve other human beings and to try to alleviate pain and suffering in this fallen world.
    Greg is a true example of “an instrument of God’s peace.”

  12. Helo. I have read the book “three cup of tea” and was very effected by it. There was a part where kyrgyz people came to Mortenson after several days of trip, to ask him to build a school for their village. As a kyrgyz myself it really effected me. so i decided to translate the book into kyrgyz language. but the problem is… i should get the permission to publish it.
    I am looking forward to getting in touch with Mr. Mortenson. If there is anyone who could help me. I would be very greatful. I started to translate the book but stopped because i don’t have the permision. if I’ll be able to publish it maybe it could help someone to contribute to the welfare of the people.

    telephone: +996 778 371 551

    • Dear Jenish,
      I’m afraid you will need to reach out to the book’s publisher to discuss translation and republishing. We wish you the best of luck.

      CAI Staff

  13. I was highly inspired by Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea and any other book he may have written. This world needs many more Greg Mortensons.

  14. This mans achievements are second only to Mother Teresa, Books not bombs is the only way to win the war on Terrorism.

  15. Like everyone who has written, I’ve also been made aware, through both books, of the situations that Greg and everyone associated with him have faced. I have a hearfelt need to say “thank you and God bless you” for the future you’ve given so many people. May your future be bright and bring you satisfaction, Greg. You’ve made a huge difference of good in this world.

  16. Dear Greg Mortenson,
    I am so grateful to you, being forever moved by your awesome inspirational book, Three Cups of Tea and the work you did with CAI. I was concerned for you during the bad publicity in 2011 but overjoyed to read that you were able to overcome those challenges. You remain my hero Greg.
    Having recently accepted Jesus God and Spirit in my life I believe that you remain His special messenger and have more work ahead of you as an inspirational peacebuilder who can continue to build bridges necessary to raise awareness of existing violence prevention measures here in the USA. This is our work at the Peace Alliance and Global Peace Alliance as we continue to appeal to the UN to build on the Culture of Peace by having International Ministries and Infrastructures of Peace within government.
    We are in need of more awesome people like you Greg.
    May God continue to bless you and all the people in your life who you hold dear.
    Gratefully ~ maggi

    • Dear Maggi,
      Thank you for your kind note and the work you’re doing to promote peace. We are so glad that Three Cups of Tea resonated with you. At CAI we truly believe that education is a path towards lasting peace and it is kindhearted people like you who make the gift of education possible. Happy New Year and thank you for all you do.

      Hannah Denys
      Communications Director

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