As part of our ongoing Tech Female Spotlight, we are featuring and celebrating dynamic tech female entrepreneurs who are using unique opportunities to create meaningful innovations and community engagements that affect humans globally. For this edition, we are presenting Bilikiss Adebiyi Abiola, the Founder of Wecyclers; a for-profit social enterprise working to help communities reclaim their neighborhoods from unmanaged waste through an incentive-based program. Read this interview with her and get inspired!
Bilikiss Adebiyi Abiola, is the CEO and Co-Founder of Wecyclers, a social enterprise working to provide households in low-income communities with value from their waste. She is also a graduate of Fisk University, Vanderbilt University and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. While at MIT, she was a Legatum Fellow at MIT’s Legatum center for Development and Entrepreneurship and a vice president of the MIT Sloan Africa Business Club. Bilikiss is also a Carroll Wilson Fellow, an Echoing Green Fellow and a 2013 recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards.
How was the Wecyclers idea developed?
The idea for Wecyclers was developed while I was in the US as a student at the MIT Sloan School of Management, following a five-year career as a corporate software engineer at IBM. I was assigned to a study project to help people at the bottom of the pyramid (people living on less than $2 a day), i decided to work on waste with focus on its uses, collection and processing.
After the project was completed, i did some research and saw the huge potential in the waste recycling sector in Nigeria, especially among the manufacturing plants who are hungry for a cheaper and easily available source of raw materials due to local and foreign demand for end products. I then decided to move the idea forward and Wecyclers was born.
What challenges do you face or have you faced in the past?
Two main challenges I have faced are funding and the wrong perception of people towards waste management. Organizations, both local and international have been of immense help through grants and sponsorship to help augment the financial needs of the company. In terms of trying to change the perception of the people, we have been able to educate people about recycling. We have had outreaches, educational lectures etc about proper waste management, disposal and the benefits of recycling both financially and environmentally.
What is your typical week like and how do you keep your life balanced?
My typical week is always a busy week. Once I am not away on a business trip, I am at our collection center because I like to see how the work is done. I respond to mails, calls and read more on how to make my organization grow. When I can, I leave work early so I can spend quality time with my family. Being a female entrepreneur is not always easy. I have to make sure my business and my family is not lacking my presence or attention.
Would you say that studying abroad paid an instrumental role to your achieving success?
I strongly believe that when you work hard, you will succeed. To some extent, I would say that schooling abroad helped me because I saw the big difference there and how it is in Nigeria. If I did not have the opportunity to study abroad, I probably would not have thought of starting something like this.
Cartier Women’s Initiative Laurate and Echoing Green experience
I felt really glad and it meant what i am doing is something to be really proud of. Being recognized internationally is a big deal and it has motivated me to be better and to keep working hard.
How you have stayed focused and developed your brand?
I know what I am supposed to do and I know no one would do it as I want it. Having this in mind, I have to stay focused so I can reach the goals I have set myself to accomplish.
How have you built your skills? Was it through formal education or your interest?
I read a lot and I am open to new and creative ideas. I also have a great communication network with those that have helped Wecyclers every step of the way.
Are there any women entrepreneurs from Africa that you admire?
Yes, I admire hard work irrespective of the area of expertise. One woman i really admire is Mrs Chinwe Ohajuruka (CEO of comprehensive design services). She builds affordable green homes for the poor in Rivers State.
What is your advice to a younger person who wants to be in your industry?
My advice to that person is to never settle for less and keep working towards the attainment of his goals.
What can we expect from Wecyclers in the future?
Be prepared to see us everywhere. We want to make an impact and be present in everybody’s lives. You know how important water is; that is how we want to be.
Thank you Bilikiss for sharing your story with us!
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