FRANKLY SPEAKING: The Austrian theoretical physicist Albert Einstein is quoted to have said: “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity”. Stephen Robert Isabalijja was raised by a single mother and was vending milk at an early age, but that did not stop from succeeding in later life to become a top banker and university don.
“The best thing that has ever happened to me is being raised by a single woman,” Isabalijja now says.
Born in 1976 in Fort portal, western Uganda to Lauren Wako Akiiki, Isabalijja remembers his mother making pancakes to raise money for his fees and other needs. He went through Kinyamasika Demonstration School, St Leos College Kyegobe and Makerere College School in Kampala from where he crossed to Makerere University.
“I was educated by pancakes so when I find them, I buy many, knowing that they are educating someone,” says Isabalijja.
His desire to succeed led him to pursue two courses at the same time. In the morning hours, he would attend class at UDBS in Nakawa and later in the evening trek to Makerere University for a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. It was not easy juggling the two, especially during examinations period, but he finally graduated with a diploma and degree.
The young Isabalijja always dreamt of being a banker and enthusiasm pushed him to pursue a master’s degree immediately after the diploma and bachelors in 2002. Upon graduation from Makerere University Business School (MUBS), Isabalijja went into lecturing at MUBS. This pushed him to pursue a PhD in USA so as to be professionally certified.
“I did a PhD for only two years and nine months,” he says, “I chose to dedicate up to 18 hours per day to my studies.”
It hurts him that his mother, Lauren Wako, did not live to witness his success. He says losing a mother is the hardest experience that has shaped him.
On return from USA, he resumed teaching at MUBS. In 2013, he was appointed Vice Chancellor at Victoria University in Kampala. He says it has exciting to stabilise a university that was under a lot of turbulence. He sees greater recognition for it in future. He is also the Board Chairman of Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited and Board Member at Uganda Development Bank and does private consultancy work. He is married with four children.
Isabalijja says “Success is a long term achievement”.
“You must work for it because it just doesn’t come but with God, it becomes an easier path,” he says.
Liteside of Robert Stephen Isabalijja
Any three things we don’t know about you?
I am what I am because of God and I am not ashamed to say it. Things that move Robert are; I believe in hard work, I am God fearing and all that I do is for His glory not for myself. Every day, I wake up to succeed and my experience has been a hard hunger for success. The problem with today’s youth is that they don’t have hunger for success.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Where the spirit of God is, there is freedom and so is happiness.
What is your greatest fear?
Reptiles particularly snakes scare me a lot.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I am a fast decision maker which sometimes brings problems because some people don’t understand me and if I don’t explain myself, others say I am proud.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Dishonesty; honesty is a big virtue for me.