How CASE helped Sightlife Surgical's CEO

Monty Montoya M.B.A. ’03 works to solve real problems. In 1997, Montoya joined an organization called SightLife, a nonprofit that recovers and processes corneas for transplant. “The impact of restoring people’s sight is literally lifesaving,” Montoya says. Giving people the gift of sight generally translates into making them self-sufficient— able to go to school, to read, and to work.

When Montoya first came to Fuqua he had ten years of technical experience but lacked the leadership, business, and marketing skills to scale his organization. He has worked closely with CASE, interacting with the team as a student and then later participating in CASE programs as an alumnus. “CASE has really set the standard nationwide and worldwide to help social ventures scale and have impact,” he says. “It’s allowed me the inspiration and knowledge to grow SightLife’s annual budget from $1 million to $45 million.”

Before connecting with CASE, SightLife provided about 700 people a year with corneal transplants. This year, more than 30,000 people will receive new corneas. But Montoya was not satisfied. With the skills and inspiration he gained at Fuqua, Montoya and his team developed a plan —as he says, borrowing a phrase from former Duke President Terry Sanford, an “outrageous ambition”—to eliminate corneal blindness worldwide by 2040.

But as Montoya and his team work tirelessly to eliminate corneal blindness, they knew they needed to do more. One of the challenges of transplants is a simple matter of supply and demand. There are only 150,000 corneas available annually from organ donors, but more than 10 million people need the sight-restoring surgery.

To accelerate and scale their work, Montoya led his team at SightLife in launching a new for-profit subsidiary, SightLife Surgical, which is focused on raising capital and driving innovations in research, products, prevention, and policy. “How do we get patients treatment better and faster? How do we make an impact so they don’t need transplants?” he asks.

CASE executive director Erin Worsham called Montoya a great example of how the CASE team is preparing leaders and organizations to change the world.

“He has an insatiable drive and passion, truly understands the complexity of the problem he seeks to solve, and is using his business skills—regardless of whether we are talking about a nonprofit or a for-profit structure—to drive to scale,” she said.

In business, to scale typically means to grow, adding more locations, or hiring more people. But at CASE, scale does not necessarily mean building a bigger organization.

“Achieving scale is not about budget size or number of locations,” Worsham said. “When we are talking about social problems, scale is about the amount of social change we can achieve. Monty is not satisfied with tens of thousands of corneas transplanted each year, or even millions. He wants to transform the entire system and eliminate the problem. Scaling social impact is not an academic exercise; it’s real people with real problems. And we are thrilled that we have been a part of Monty’s journey to achieving impact at scale.”

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