Entrepreneur, Engineer Now Heads International Anti-Malaria Campaign
As an entrepreneur, alumnus Timothy “Scott” Case (B.S. Computer Science & Engineering, ’92) built and fronted several innovative high tech companies that have since joined the pantheon of household names, among them priceline.com, the “Name Your Own Price” Internet service, for which he was a co-founding partner and Chief Technology Officer. He is credited with building the technology that enabled the company’s hyper-growth. Earlier in his career, Mr. Case was employed with the Walker Digital Invention Laboratory. He is a co-inventor on dozens of U.S. patents, including the underlying portfolio for priceline.com.
These days, he focuses his energies on founding and building organizations that improve the lives of millions of people around the globe. “There are engineers who like to do research. Other engineers who like to look at the big problems. I like to solve big social problems,” Mr. Case explained in a recent interview.
He is Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of New York-based Malaria No More (MNM). The two-year-old nonprofit organization seeks to end deaths from malaria, a debilitating and deadly disease spread by mosquitoes. The organization has an integrated mission involving education, public awareness and fundraising to provide life-saving mosquito nets, medications and other critical interventions to families in Africa. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year 350-500 million people contract malaria worldwide and each day, some 3,000 die – most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria not only exacts the bitter toll of lost human lives, it also further erodes social and economic development.
From Mr. Case’s perspective, malaria is simply a very large system problem. “As engineers, we look at a problem, deconstruct it and try different solutions until we resolve it. We have the problem solving skills and executive skills – whether we’re solving big social problems or engineering problems. Civil engineers may look at a bridge and offer design solutions that will make it safer. Mechanical engineers may look at ways to customize a turbine to suit a customer’s needs. An electrical engineer may devise ways to wrest better performance from a semiconductor. . .but there’s no reason to limit ourselves to solving just commercial problems.”
His decision to assume a leading role with MNM was driven by his conviction that deaths from the disease can be eliminated. “The technologies needed to address malaria are readily available, yet lots of people are dying from this terrible disease, particularly children in sub-Saharan Africa. I became involved because it’s a big, but solvable, problem, and we have a moral obligation to act.”
He remarked that the disease was eradicated from most developed countries, through sustained campaigns of insecticidal spraying, medication and monitoring, during the 40s and 50s. “The barriers to success in Africa range from lack of health system infrastructure to international political will, from resources to the near perfect environment for the mosquitoes that spread malaria to live. All of the barriers are addressable if we, humanity, decide to tackle them. MNM’s job is to make the case that ending deaths caused by malaria is a decision we should make”
Mr. Case has a long-standing interest in philanthropy. “I’ve always been interested in helping others, in promoting social enterprise,” he said. Mr. Case attributes his altruistic tendencies to his parents and, in particular, his mother, who has always focused her energies on helping others. “In college, I made the concerted decision that, for everything I worked on, I would consider the broader social impacts. I have carried this focus with me throughout my career, and I’m blessed now with the opportunity to turn 100% of my focus toward solving social problems.”
During his stewardship, MNM has enlisted the help of high-profile stars and organizations, including Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, David Beckham, soccer team FC Barcelona and American Idol. The American Idol special, “Idol Gives Back,” highlighted malaria and Malaria No More in both 2007 and 2008, reaching over 40 million Americans and raising tens of millions of dollars for life-saving mosquito nets.
In September, MNM participated in the 2008 Millennium Development Goals Malaria Summit where MNM and its partners announced $3 billion in new funding commitments that will support rapid implementation of the Global Malaria Action Plan. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for full coverage of malaria interventions in Africa by 2010, and Mr. Case believes achieving that goal will save more than 4.2 million lives by 2015 and lay the foundation for a longer-term effort to eradicate the disease.
Mr. Case credits MNM with raising awareness about malaria and its solutions, and with increasing the world’s ambitions for what is achievable. “If you pick the wrong problem,” he explained, “you may also pick the wrong solution. Years ago, people wanted to reduce the number of deaths resulting from malaria. They focused on cutting the number of children’s deaths from the disease, since children are the primary victims. So efforts centered on distributing nets to just the children – while adults continue to get sick and spread the disease. Once the goal changed from saving children’s lives to ending all deaths caused by malaria, we have been able to focus on a path to a total solution.”
Engineers as Entrepreneurs and Philanthropists
Mr. Case has applied not only his philanthropic, but also his entrepreneurial, energies from a young age. “In high school, I had my own consulting business that provided networking services, particularly to law firms. At UConn, this interest continued. During my undergraduate years, Professor Mallory Selfridge encouraged me to do an independent study and to think differently about problems…”
During his final year at UConn, Mr. Case co-founded Precision Training Software, a software company that developed the world’s first PC-based simulated flight instructor and photo-realistic flight simulator.
“I learned a few key lessons about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and what I didn’t know about the importance of marketing and sales. I went on to meet Jay Walker, who later founded Walker Digital and priceline.com. He taught me how to market – how to communicate the benefits of the product so people could understand them.”
Why should engineers care about solving social problems? According to Mr. Case, doing so is not just the right thing to do, it’s also economic. “If I were to send today’s students a message, it would be that if we look carefully at our role in problem solving, considering the social as well as the commercial aspects will make it a better product. You don’t have to compromise one for the other, and both can be economically viable. Look at Poland Spring’s new Eco-Shape® bottle. The company redesigned their bottles to use 30% less plastic than the average and to be fully recyclable, and yet they are sturdy and lightweight. The result is cost savings to the company, a reduction in environmental impact and continued customer satisfaction. We can make commercially smart decisions that also serve social goals. If we can integrate some part of this thinking into every incremental decision, the outcomes will be very big.”
Mr. Case also serves as Chairman of the Board and Director of Network For Good, (www.NetworkForGood.org), a national nonprofit that provides online fundraising and communications services to over 5,000 nonprofit organizations. He is also an active board member of the United Way of Norwalk & Wilton, a member of the UConn School of Engineering Advisory Board, and a 2006 inductee into the UConn Academy of Distinguished Engineers.
Malaria No More offers various ways to help, from donating $10 for an insecticide-treated mosquito net to organizing fundraising dances and soccer games to raising awareness in classrooms and church groups. Visit the MNM website to learn how you can help: www.malarianomore.org.