Mountain2Mountain: Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea provided motivation, not money

This week's cover story, "Peak Performance," describes how the pull of past history and the power of publishing inspired Shannon Galpin to create Mountain2Mountain, an international nonprofit dedicated to educating women in conflict zones. Although Galpin was influenced most strongly by the fact that both she and her sister had been raped, her work with nonprofits really began in late 2006, after she read Greg Mortenson's bestselling Three Cups of Tea.

The book is Mortenson's account of his transition from professional nurse to co-founder of the humanitarian Central Asia Institute. After reading that book, as well as John Wood's Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and Rory Stewart's The Places In Between, Galpin, then a Pilates instructor with a toddler at home, buried herself in their ideas.

And then she signed on to help support the Central Asia Institute, hosting fundraisers, including one that brought in more than $100,000 for the CAI to build two women's schools in Pakistan. The success of that effort persuaded her that she could start her own nonprofit, and in 2008 she finalized the 501(c)(3) paperwork for Mountain2Mountain.

But today, Galpin distances herself from Three Cups of Tea. Last year, readers launched a class-action lawsuit against Mortenson, accusing him of fraud and fabricating some of the most impression-making anecdotes in the original book and its 2009 follow-up, Stones Into Schools. Even nonfiction master Jon Krakauer stepped into the ring, investigating Mortenson's story in an e-book, Three Cups of Deceit.

At the end of April, U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon dismissed the lawsuit against Mortenson. The case is currently on appeal, says Alexander Blewett, attorney for the plaintiffs, although he declined to talk about it further.

Galpin doesn't want to talk about it, either. She only took inspiration from Mortenson, not money, she notes, and she only met him a couple of times. The two ended any professional relationship when Galpin began Mountain2Mountain, and they have not spoken since. "I wish him the best," she says. "I was nowhere near the only person inspired by his story, and it has meant a lot."

Mortenson did not respond to Westword's request for an interview.

In April, an investigation conducted through the Montana Attorney General's office concluded that "the board of directors failed to fulfill some of its important responsibilities in governing the nonprofit charity. Further, Mortenson failed to fulfill his responsibilities as executive director and as a member of the board."

That report, available in full below, was accompanied by the demand that Mortenson reimburse the Central Asia Institute $1 million. In response, the CAI released this statement through executive director Anne Beyersdorfer: "While we respectfully disagree with some of the analysis and conclusions in the OAG's report, we look forward to moving ahead as an even stronger organization, focusing on CAI's vital mission." Mortenson also weighed in with a letter to CAI's supporters, which noted: "Besides the death of my father and sister, the past year has been the most challenging time of my life. At times, facing so much -- open-heart surgery, legal investigations, allegations and assumptions -- was difficult beyond words for my family and me. However, it also turned out to be a blessing, to remind me of the virtues of humility, love, and compassion."

Here's the OAG's report:

Greg Mortenson Investigation Report

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple