Spotlighting Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola – Founder, WeCyclers Nigeria

In 2012, Bilikiss Adebiyi left a five-year-long job as a Software Programmer at IBM in the United States to return home to Nigeria and execute an idea that came to her while she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): A recycling company now called...

It is not every day that you meet a woman who is passionate about collecting and recycling waste especially in an environment like Nigeria. It is also not every day you meet someone who abandons a job at IBM to do so.

With an MBA from world acclaimed Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other stellar qualifications and learning, Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola could have easily landed a beyond average paying job and eased into ”the life” back here in Nigeria. However, she choose the exact opposite – collecting and recycling waste materials, linking her to the masses in the very last rung of the economic ladder. At Wecyclers, she is solving global environmental issues that are vital to the sustenance and quality of life of the continent’s inhabitants one state at a time.

Bilikiss got her eureka moment in a Development Ventures class at MIT which highlighted the problems facing people at the lowest cadre of the society and how these problems could be solved.

Having a background in software engineering and an avid recycler proved to be a strong background in promoting the business model that Wecyclers employs today.

According to a World Bank Urban Development Series Report, Africa currently produces just about 70 million tons of waste every year with a miserly 10% collected systematically. For a sector that generates revenue in the western world to the tune of billions of dollars, Bilikiss has been recognised as an innovator who seeks to solve a huge problem facing waste collection in Lagos state.

Wecyclers is the recipient of multiple awards, including, the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award, Tech Award, Echoing Green Fellowship, MIT D-lab Scale-ups fellowship, MIT IDEAS Venture Grant, Yunus Challenge Prize at the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge Competition, Carroll Wilson Fellowship and is a Sustainia100 company. Our work has been highlighted in The Economist, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Punch, BBC, Marie Claire Magazine, New African Woman, The Independent among others.

At Wecyclers, members of local communities are encouraged to collect their recyclable materials through SMS-based incentive programs. The wastes are collated and transported in locally made wecycles, operated by locals in the community and transferred to a collection point where they are in turn delivered to recycling plants to be processed into finished products. Talk about a whole chain of production and impact.

Wecyclers is currently operational only in Lagos where 13,000 metric tonnes of waste material are produced daily of which 30 – 40% constitutes well-sorted and high-quality recyclable waste materials which are supplied as raw materials to recycling companies like Alkem Nigeria Limited for use.

Even with these numbers, there is still a lot more work to be done to better the lot of our environment and the recycling industry as reports from Wecyclers show that one of the largest recycling plants in Lagos only operates at 40% of its capacity due to the inadequate supply of waste materials.

Bilikiss has not only created employment opportunities directly and indirectly with her organization, but she is changing the way we handle waste in the country and providing raw materials for an industry operating in great deficit.

In addition, families and households who sign up with Wecyclers receive redeemable points over their cell phones for every kilogram of waste they supply. With these redeemable points, they are rewarded with household items, airtime and sponsored prizes over a period.

In line with her vision to empower the communities where they operate, she has also an Independent Contractor Programme in partnership with FCMB to offer franchises of the business to empower applicants, improve input of wastes into the recycling programme while creating paid employment for participants and impacting society.

In a state teeming with waste landfills and dirt, the opportunities are endless if structured and tapped into. She says the government can begin by creating and implementing policies that will boost the sector starting with mandating recycling on renewable products.

Taking renewable wastes off the streets inputting them in sectors where they are needed to create useable products could turn out to employ over 500,000 youths, a figure that will make a lasting impact on the number of unemployed in the country.

For Bilikiss, the fight does not end in Lagos. Wecyclers plans to take its recycling campaign all around the country and beyond. ‘’We will be the foremost recycling company in Nigeria and beyond’, she says.

Already, 10,000 households are registered under the scheme and 1,000 metric tonnes of renewable wastes from landfills have been diverted into productive use.

The future is bright for Bilikiss as she trudges on charting a way in the recycling sector, a true leading woman.

Waste is valuable and Wecyclers is creating a wealth of value one community at a time. In five years, she hopes to have built a strong recycling network across the country.

BUSINESS Day

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Women in Africa
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