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Don Francis and the Quest for an AIDS Vaccine

Case 9 40 2013 019
Languages : 
  • English
  • Complexity,
  • Issues,
  • Institutional entrepreneurship,
  • Management,
  • Social entrepreneurship,
  • Social innovation
Year of production : 
Registration date : 
Teaching notes included : 

This case charts the course of Don Francis, a pioneer and, for more than 20 years, an activist in the promotion of an AIDS vaccine. It focuses on two issues: (1) the personal and professional trajectory of Don Francis as a social/institutional entrepreneur in the public, private, and non-profit sectors; and (2) the challenges of crossing boundaries between the public, business, not-for-profit, scientific, political and economic arenas.

Don Francis is widely recognized as one of the most significant figures in keeping the hope for finding an AIDS vaccine alive in spite of numerous challenges. These challenges are rooted in the scientific/technical aspect of AIDS vaccine research, the social value placed on curative rather than preventive measures, lack of a coordinated scientific strategy, competition rather than collaboration among research groups, low interest by industry and governments of rich countries in investing in vaccine research and generally inadequate funding for the enormous task at hand. In addition to his continuing passion for finding an AIDS vaccine, his other legacies include the development of the standard components of an AIDS Control Program that are currently applied around the world: (a) voluntary and counselling testing (VCT) centres for AIDS; (b) blood screening by blood banks; and (c) sex education.

The purpose of this case is two-fold. First, it undertakes to follow the trajectory of Don Francis, a social entrepreneur in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Second, it aims to expose students to the complexities and controversy involved in the quest for an AIDS vaccine.

Primary domain : 
Management  - Leadership
Secondary domain : 
Not available
Sectors : 
  • Healthcare
Source : 
HEC Montréal
Type : 
Traditional case (Descriptive or analytical case)
Type of data used in the production of the case : 
Factual data that is public and free of potentially litigious content
Event location : 
United States
Year of start of the event : 
Year the event ended : 
Business size : 
Not applicable
Main themes covered

Public health;

Vaccine Development;






Teaching objectives

After using this case, participants will have:

- Learned from the experience of a relentless entrepreneur who works on a controversial but deadly disease in the public, private and non-profit sector;

- Understood the challenges and potential of working across different arenas such as the scientific, political, economic, and academic communities; different stakeholders with different powers affect the dynamics of each of these arenas.

Concepts and theories related to the case

Social entrepreneurship; instituttional entrepreneurship