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.
Bilikiss Adebiyi or Bilikiss Adebiyi Abiola is a Nigerian CEO of a recycling company, Wecyclers, in Lagos. She was educated at MIT and came to notice due to a novel approach to recycling based on tricycles and SMS.
Adebiyi was born in Lagos where she went to the Supreme Education Foundation secondary school. She entered the University of Lagos, but her parents were concerned for her safety so after a year she went to America. She graduated from Fisk University and then went to Vanderbilt University where she collected a master’s degree. She worked for IBM for five years before deciding to study further. She was accepted to study for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
MIT is where she first created her idea for a recycling business during her second year. She had chosen waste as her specialist subject and she knew that her MBA relied not on just having good ideas but in making them happen. Her initial idea was to increase the quantity of waste she could collect from households by offering them raffle tickets in exchange. When she discussed this in Nigeria on a vacation she was surprised at the enthusiasm that was offered for her ideas. Waste is a particular nuisance in Lagos as only a small percentage is collected regularly. Adebiyi took the idea back to MIT where she was able to gather support by entering her idea in competitions. Adebiyi’s husband had always been based in Nigeria so there was a good reason for her to return to Lagos, after her 2012 graduation. Whilst her children were at school she commuted each day to establish her new recycling business that she called Wecyclers.When the business started Adebiyi would take out a tricycle to do collections to find out more about her new business.
In 2012 she co-founded a company called Wecyclers which collects recyclable rubbish from households in Lagos. Once the rubbish is sorted then her company sends back SMS messages to the person who supplied the rubbish.The SMS message tells that person about points they have earned from the rubbish they donated. The company works in partnership with the Lagos Waste Management Authority. Lagos produces 9,000 tonnes of waste per day and the authority were trying to almost double the proportion that was recycled from the 18% figure in 2011.Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy but the disorganisation in Lagos means that rubbish cannot always be collected. Wecyclers use modified tricycles which enables rubbish to be collected where normal vehicles could not go. Wecyclers collects from thousands of households. The company estimated in October 2015 that it has collected over 500 tons of rubbish, it has created value from that rubbish and it has employed 80 people.
Adebiyi whose married name is Abiola has arranged for the Coca-Cola and GlaxoSmithKline to subsidize their operation. Wecyclers had found that a significant proportion of the rubbish came from these companies and they were willing to assist with the recycling effort.
Adebiyi’s efforts have been reported in the UK, US and Nigeria in 2014 and 2016. Coverage included CNN, Huffington Post, The Independent, Marie Claire Magazine, The Economist and NDaniTV. She has been awarded grants from MIT and she has won a number of awards including the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award for sub-Saharan Africa in 2013.[