Central Asia Institute

New Board Directors help lead Central Asia Institute's mission forward


July 18, 2012 - Central Asia Institute (CAI) welcomed seven new Board members to the charity's Board of Directors in meetings last week in San Francisco, California. The new directors bring many years of leadership experience, expertise, and a depth of understanding of the people we serve. They come to CAI from a range of fields including education, management, finance, corporate governance, and law (brief bios below).

Dozens of highly qualified individuals had expressed interest to serve on CAI's Board over the last year. A majority of CAI's Board members are from, or have lived, worked, traveled, or have extensive knowledge about Afghanistan and Pakistan, the primary regions that CAI serves.

"CAI has always been a small group of devoted, mission-centric individuals doing extraordinary work," co-founder Greg Mortenson said. "We are excited, honored, and grateful to have such a high caliber Board of Directors, who will provide the independent expertise necessary to fulfill our mission as we move forward."

Greg Mortenson and CAI have worked with communities in the mountainous, remote, and often war-wracked areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1996 to establish over 300 educational and community support initiatives, including literacy centers, school buildings, vocational centers, scholarship programs, and public health (potable water, midwifery, and disaster-relief) initiatives.

At the conclusion of the meeting, new board member Steve Barrett commented, "CAI's future is bright. We will continue to build on the important accomplishments of CAI in promoting education, especially for girls, in Central Asia." 

Steve Barrett is a native Montanan and worked as a lawyer in Bozeman for more than 35 years, first with Kirwan & Barrett and for the last several years of counsel with the firm of CrowleyFleck, PLLP. Steve recently concluded a seven-year term on the Board of Regents of the Montana University System where he served as Vice Chair and Chair. Steve was previously general counsel, senior vice president and CEO of Video Lottery Technologies, Inc (formerly NASDQ VLTS). He has also served on several nonprofit Boards, including Eagle Mount and Big Sky Owners Association. Steve earned his BS from Montana State University and his JD from Pepperdine University School of Law.

Talat Khan is a retired teacher and philanthropist. Talat taught Chemistry at PECHS College for Women, Karachi for 13 years before emigrating to the U.S where she obtained a teaching credential and continued teaching Chemistry in San Francisco public schools for 23 years. More recently, Talat has developed and sponsored several educational and community initiatives in Pakistan including: classroom expansions, library materials, the "One Laptop Per Child" program, scholarship, and food programs.

Farid Senzai is a Fellow and the Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU). He is also Assistant Professor of Political Science at Santa Clara University. Farid was previously a research associate at the Brookings Institution, where he studied U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, and a research analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as a consultant for Oxford Analytica and the World Bank. He is currently on the advisory board of The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. His recent co-authored book is "Educating the Muslims of America" (Oxford University Press, 2009). Farid received an M.A. in international affairs from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in politics and international relations from Oxford University.

Iram Shah is a global marketing executive with 20 years of experience in marketing, general management, and business development in Fortune 20 companies and has held senior executive positions in companies such as Coca Cola, BP, Quaker Oats and Zurich Financial. Iram received her MBA degree in finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and attended postgraduate programs at Harvard and Kellogg Business Schools. She has won the Asian Jewel Award for business professionals and was included in the list of 'Power 100' Asians in UK in 2005.

Howard Slayen has over 35 years of professional services and financial operating management experience working in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, and tax advisory for private equity firms, middle market operating companies, venture-backed technology companies, and multi-national conglomerates. For 30 years, Howard was with one of the major international accounting and professional services firms holding a number of management and leadership positions at both the national and regional level. Most recently, he has served on a number of boards of directors for public, private and nonprofit organizations. Howard holds an A.B. in Economics from Claremont McKenna and a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley (Boalt). He is a Certified Public Accountant (inactive) and attorney (inactive) in the State of California.

Peter Thatcher is a retired international finance and management executive. Early in his career he spent nearly two years in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan. He studied Middle Eastern history during summers at Harvard University, and earned an M.A. in food research at Stanford University in 1966. His career included living in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Cairo, Egypt, Moscow, and Vladivostok, Russia.  In Washington, DC, he worked for the US Agency for International Development as Senior Agribusiness Advisor for the former Soviet Union and the Balkans. In Bozeman, Peter served at both the College of Agriculture and the Engineering Research Center.

John E. "Jed" Williamson is the Past President of Sterling College in Vermont and of the American Alpine Club.  He was on the faculty of the U. of New Hampshire from 1973 to 1982. In retirement, he serves as a consultant in education and outdoor pursuits and specializes in quality, risk management, and accreditation reviews. He has been the editor of "Accidents in North American Mountaineering" since 1974 and is the co-author of the Association for Experiential Education's Accreditation Standards for Adventure Programs. He has been a director, program director, and instructor for U.S. Outward Bound, Executive Director of the United States Biathlon Association, and has served on several nonprofit Boards. Jed received his B.A. in English Lit. and his M. Ed from the University of New Hampshire.

CAI Board Chairman Dr. Abdul Jabbar, professor of literature from City College San Francisco, and CAI Board member Karen McCown, who started two schools in the San Francisco Bay area, and is also the founder of Six Seconds, an emotional intelligence training organization, will remain on the CAI Board until spring 2013.


Updates from the field on CAI Communique: "They are the lucky ones"

KABUL, Afghanistan - The 11-year-old girl who lies to her parents about where she is going for two hours every afternoon. The 50-year-old war widow who says it is never too late to learn to read and write. And the 20-year-old teacher determined to share her education with the women in her neighborhood. 


First-grade students at Byazid Girls' Middle School study under a makeshift tent outside. The school is too small to house the increasing number of students so the youngest of them must study outside. Central Asia Institute is building additional classrooms, expanding the space to accommodate all the boys and girls. Photo: Erik Petersen, 2012.

These are three of the 45 women who fill the temporary classroom set up in the teacher's east Kabul home. Their goal is to learn to read and write - attaining the equivalent of a third-grade education - over the span of the nine-month Central Asia Institute literacy class.


"These girls and women, they are the lucky ones," the teacher says. "They have a chance for education and they are most interested. But we must encourage them because it is hard work."


Over endless cups of tea, boiled mutton, salt tea with curdled goat's milk, and heaping plates of Kabuli pilau, we have talked to community leaders, teachers and students about the role of education in Afghanistan's future and what CAI can do to help. We have seen CAI community schools under construction and those that date back to CAI's early days in Afghanistan established after 9/11. And we have visited women's literacy and vocational centers, all full to bursting with girls and women eager to garner the skills - reading, writing, sewing, math - to improve their lives.


In a country where at least 70 percent of the population is illiterate and the average person earns only a little more than $500 a year, according to the World Bank, there is no shortage of need here. 


It is but one of the dozens of projects photographer Erik Petersen and I have visited since arriving in Afghanistan last month. Accompanied by CAI program directors, we have fought the insane Kabuli traffic, driven endless hours through breathtaking mountains, and traipsed along narrow footpaths to visit CAI projects in Kabul, Logar, Parwan, Kapisa, Wardak, and Badakhshan provinces. 

Security concerns, meanwhile, are a constant, as pervasive of the question of where to charge our electronic gizmos - phones, camera batteries, computers - that keep us in touch. CAI folks often say, "It's complicated." And given the power struggles being waged in anticipation of the withdrawal of US/NATO troops in 2014, it seems things in Afghanistan are more complicated than ever.



Yet even with deteriorating security, the consistent refrain is that education is the only path to a better future for this war-weary country. Elders, teachers, students, parents - they all know the power of education. As CAI co-founder Greg Mortenson says, "War destroys people's families, homes, livelihoods. But no one can take away a person's education - it remains theirs forever."

And the Afghan people seem to know that intuitively - including the courageous and happy 11-year-old girl at CAI's sponsored literacy center who every day risks her parents' wrath in order to learn to read and write.


As always, the people of this country inspire me beyond words.


QUOTE: Today a reader, tomorrow a leader. - Margaret Fuller


- Karin Ronnow

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A student at Gumran Girls' Middle School in Logar Province is given a new Central Asia Institute notebook, pen, pencil, sharpener and eraser during a visit by Wakil Karimi, CAI's program director for central, southern, and eastern Afghanistan. Photo: Erik Petersen, 2012.

CAI is U.S. registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, IRS EIN #51-0376237. Contributions are tax-deductible in the U.S.




Help us promote girls' education, literacy and peace: one penny, one pencil, one child, one book, and three cups of tea at a time! Make a tax deductible donation to Central Asia Institute to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.




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