2010 Laureate Prize Winner

Greg Mortenson

2010 Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate in Public Service

Greg Mortenson, author and humanitarian, is best known for his tireless work building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past 16 years.  Author of the best sellers Three Cups of Tea (www.threecupsoftea.com) and Stones into Schools, Mortenson also is the co-founder of the non-profit Central Asia Institute (www.ikat.org) and founder of Pennies for Peace (www.penniesforpeace.org). Against daunting odds, Mr. Mortenson has established over 131 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan as of 2010. These schools provide educational opportunities to over 58,000 children, including 48,000 girls, where few educational opportunities existed before.

Born in 1957, Mr. Mortenson grew up on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.  His father founded the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center and his mother founded the International School Moshi.  After serving in the U.S Army in Germany, where he received the Army Commendation Medal, Mr. Mortenson graduated from the University of South Dakota. The death of Mortenson’s sister in 1992 sent him on an adventure to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain.  Mr. Mortenson was unsuccessful in his attempt, lost his way, and ended up in the small village of Korphe, where the villagers nursed him back to health.  To express his gratitude, Mr. Mortenson pledged to return and build a school.  From that rash promise, grew a humanitarian campaign in which Mr. Mortenson has dedicated his life to promote education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  

Greg Mortenson with interviewer Richard Kurin

Greg Mortenson with interviewer Richard Kurin

Mr. Mortenson’s work has not been without difficulty.  In 1996 he survived an eight day armed kidnapping by the Taliban; he escaped a 2003 firefight with feuding Afghan warlords by hiding under animal hides in the back of a truck; he overcame two fatwehs from enraged Islamic mullahs; and he has endured CIA investigations.

To the rural communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he has gained the trust of Islamic leaders, military commanders, government officials, and tribal chiefs, Mr. Mortenson is a living hero because of his passionate and continuous effort to champion education, especially for girls.  For over 16 years, Mr. Mortenson is one of few foreigners who have worked in rural villages where foreigners seldom go.  Tom Brokaw calls Mr. Mortenson, “one ordinary person with the right combination of character and determination, who is really changing the world.” Congresswoman Mary Bono of California says “I’ve learned more from Greg Mortenson about the root causes of terrorism than I did during all our briefings on Capitol Hill.  He is a true hero, who exemplifies the true ideals of the American spirit.” 

In 2009, Mr. Mortenson received the Star of Pakistan for his work and in 2009 and 2010 he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.  Mr. Mortenson’s advocacy work extends beyond female literacy and education.  Mr. Mortenson is also committed to the global abolishment of the manufacture and use of land mines and actively campaigns for the U.S. to join the 158 countries that have already signed an anti-land pact agreement.

When Mr. Mortenson is not traveling overseas, he resides in Montana with his wife and two young children.