A journey to and from Harvard with a big heart

It is perfectly in order, and something worth being content with, that all you have to do to be happy is to give your utmost best in any endeavor, and not to compete to seek gratification

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BY DAVID ONJILI

Imagine having a sweet water source inside your mind while you keep running from outside to quench your thirst. The more you run, the more you get jaded and thirsty. Once you stop and look inside, you will discover that hidden source and all you have to do is tap into it to get that lifelong supply of happiness, absolutely free.

Isaac Nyangolo made headlines in the 2001 after he was ranked the third best candidate nationally in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results, a feat that earned him full scholarship at both Harvard and Yale Universities. He opted for the former, a journey that would totally change his perspective of life.

A second born in a family of four, Isaac, by his own admission, had always been defined by the grades he made. He was a top student at both Jamhuri and Mama Ngina Primary Schools in Nakuru and at Mang’u High School, his stellar performance only got better. In 2001, he was the second best student nationally in a mathematics contest hosted by his school a fete that earned him a scholarship to study IT at Strathmore University. This, thus, was his life, an identity formed by being the best in class.

Isaac is the son to Dr Jacob Onyango, a don at Machakos University, School of Agriculture and Mrs Pelesia Ochieng’, a retired primary school teacher to whom he credits for being the strong pillars and present figures in his development as a person.

Isaac, he met extremely bright students from across the globe at Harvard who had obsession to work hard it was intimidating

The experience at Harvard would, however, change all this. Here, he met extremely bright students from across the globe. They had an obsession to work hard and it was intimidating to this student who had always topped in school. Harvard demanded between 60 – 80 hours a week of rigorous academic work, he worked 10-15 hours part time and admits, this was always a scheduled life.

Most, if not all, of his breakfasts, alongside other college mates were taken either walking to class or in class. If there was a party, then he would have to leave the library to attend it and get back to books. For the first time in his life, he remembers working extremely hard in class to be an above average student.

This experience is what truly changed his perspective of life. Isaac admits that he came to realize that it was perfectly in order and something worth being content with that all you had to do to be happy was to give your utmost best in any endeavor. Never look on the outside and compare with others to seek gratification.

In 2007, armed with a degree in Engineering Science (Electrical Engineering), Isaac boarded a flight back home away from the intensity of study. Ideally, it would be expected that he would remain in America and move on to Silicon Valley. He admits that with most engineering jobs moving to India then and the 2007 economic crisis in the USA, getting work permits was tough, not to ignore the fact that the undergraduate academic journey at Harvard had taken a toll on him and he felt the need to take a break. This, interestingly, would end up being a journey where he would be at the vanguard of several key events that shaped Kenya’s IT, Finance and education landscape, just to mention a few.

He would join Wananchi Online in December 2007 and for the following fifteen months work there, being part of the inaugural design team for Zuku, which was part of the country’s first triple-play cable network. He left and joined Citi Bank for less than a year and ultimately joined Equity Bank in 2009 and as they say, the rest is history.

At Equity Bank, he comanaged the team that implemented the Oracle Siebel CRM solution and also co-founded credit scoring and predictive analytics team that crystallized into the Risk Analytics Department at the bank. This was at a time when the bank was ferociously making headways as a low risk lender to Kenyans. This experience in analytics would later lead to the formation of Litemore Company, with Zeraki Analytics as one of its signature products.

He left the bank and moved to Equity Foundation as a program manager. The foundation runs the notoriously famous Equity African Leaders Program, the country’s most prestigious leadership development and higher education financing scheme, which oversees close to 2,000 pre-university, university and post-university scholars and also serves as Equity Bank’s primary talent development program. For four years, to 2004, he was here before partnering with Eva Watiri, Erick Oude and later Bryan Nyakaru to start Litemore where he is to date.

Litmore deals with both data and analytics as can be evidenced by its subsidiary, Zeraki Analytics which is a digital program that provides tutorial videos to Kenyan students. Zeraki is also used as a decision making tool for both schools and parents as the captured data (student marks) are presented in a way that can aid in decision making.

Mr Nyangolo is also the director of G-United (Greatness United), a volunteer program under the Office of the President where university graduates seeking to make positive change in both their lives and those of others are drawn. The purpose of this program is to use the university graduates as education ambassadors at primary school level. Here they volunteer as teachers by offering remedial classes to students identified with weaknesses in their academics. They also aid in promoting enrollment through outreach and awareness raising campaigns.

The program also aids in promoting national cohesion where graduates are taken to areas far away from their communities and given to foster homes to host them. Here they are able to assimilate, learn and appreciate the divergent Kenyan culture and promote coexistence.

He also sits on the Kenyan Advisory Board of Education for All, an organization keen on providing an education-to – employment program for bright, disadvantaged Kenyan youth to foster leadership, economic opportunity and social progress to them.

Looking back, Isaac Nyangolo is proud to have come back home even as he appreciates that it is important for other Kenyans to remain abroad. Citing the example of India, he says they have professors in top universities and any Indian student joining them is easily aided to settle, as they understand them culturally, which also leads to exchange of ideas and expertise and Kenya can emulate that too.