Let me start from the beginning. In January 2009, I read "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" by Thomas Friedman. In this book, Mr. Friedman writes about the connection between the violent Islamic fundamentalist movement and the world's ravenous, but potentially avoidable, need for oil. Along the way, he describes the story of Greg Mortenson as told in "Three Cups of Tea," written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Mr. Friedman mentions how Greg Mortenson and the organization he founded, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), builds schools in remote areas of Pakistan, which have become sanctuaries and recruiting posts for groups like the Taliban, Al Queda, and other extremist groups. Through the few paragraphs devoted to describing how Greg Mortenson had managed to build over 70 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite lacking any government support, having little personal wealth, and facing fatwas declared by hostile mullahs, I became intrigued by the existence of such an organization and such a person.
Much of February was consumed by work, tests, and vacation plans, but when I returned in March, I finally read "Three Cups of Tea," and was inspired by the feats accomplished by Greg Mortenson, and frankly, was disappointed by my own lack of vision and social impact for the past couple of years. His story was the proverbial kick in the butt that really got me thinking about how much I understood about the world and what I was actively doing to make it better. I started brainstorming about what I could do to help. I briefly considered hosting a fundraiser for the CAI, but I didn't think I had the social cache to raise any significant amount of money. Also, somehow, collecting money from my friends didn't seem sufficient. I wanted my friends and others to be inspired and be made more aware, like I was through reading the book. After several days, I had the idea of the "Three Cups of Tea Book Project." There was no better way to spread the influence of the book and raise money for the CAI at the same time than the book itself. The basic idea being that I would personally purchase several books as gifts for others, who would then pass on the book to others. I began speaking to the CAI and learned that with $50,000, the CAI can build a school and support it for 5 years. With some simple math, I determined that with 200 books I can potentially raise $50,000 in about 2 years, if things go according to plan. Over the next two months, I thought further about the logistics of this project. I had several questions that needed to be addressed. How would I track the progress of the books? How do I make the process as simple as possible to participants? How would I be able to collaborate with others? How can I help increase awareness beyond the book?
Through some research and experimentation, I learned about tools and applications available for websites, blogs, online collaboration, and fund raising. I discovered that Google has created a excellent collection of integrated online applications which are fundamental to making the Book Project a reality. (So, thank you, Mr. Google!) Now I have a gmail account which is connected to this blog, the future website (still under development), an RSS reader I use for stories on Central Asia and other social concerns, an online map which shows the progress of every book in the Book Project, and shared documents with "The Kettle" team. "The Kettle" was a name I chose in keeping with the theme of "Three Cups of Tea." I hope it will be a source by which people become more aware and understanding of the plight of other people. The people of Central Asia is one group of ignored and misunderstood people, but certainly there are many others around the world. And speaking of "The Kettle team," I am alone for now, but friends have been helping fine tune this blog and the Book Project. In about a month, I hope to recruit some people to help me improve and expand "The Kettle" "franchise." (Would you like fries with your order of social consciousness?)
Between work and a very, very difficult exam that I am taking in June, my progress has been slower than I wanted, but I am happy to say that in a couple of days, I will be launching the first set of books for the Book Project. I will use this first set of books to prove the concept and make improvements to subsequent book launches. Amazon is making a killing from me with these book orders (200 "Three Cups of Tea" books and several more books about Central Asia, Pakistan, Micro Finance, etc.), but I believe the cost in time and money will pay off in several months.
Whew, this was a long post! I'll try to make future posts more concise!
All the best,
The Kettle Rumbles