Susty Person of The Week

Susty Person of the Week: Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola

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. Founded in 2012, Wecyclers, in partnership with the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), utilizes low-cost cargo bicycles called “wecycles” to provide convenient recycling services to households in Lagos, Nigeria using an SMS-based incentives system. Wecyclers has registered over 11,000 households to its service and has diverted over 2000 tons of recyclable waste from landfills and into productive reuse.

Wecyclers is the recipient of multiple awards, including, a Sustainia Award,  Tech Award and the Yunus Challenge Prize at the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge Competition. Wecyclers has been highlighted in The Economist, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Punch, BBC, Marie Claire Magazine, New African Woman, The Africa Report and The Independent among others.

Bilikiss is a graduate of Fisk University, Vanderbilt University and MIT’s Sloan School of Management.  Bilikiss worked for 5 years as a Software Engineer at IBM where she worked to develop social networking software for large organizations.

While at MIT, Bilikiss was a Legatum Fellow at MIT’s Legatum center for Development and Entrepreneurship and was a vice president of the MIT Sloan Africa Business Club. Bilikiss is a Carroll Wilson Fellow, an Echoing Green Fellow and is a 2013 recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards.

This week, we are so proud to have Bilikiss as our Susty Person of the Week, please read her interview below:

Please introduce yourself – The way you want the world to know you 🙂
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola is a Nigerian social entrepreneur and co-founder of Wecyclers. I am a passionate agent for change and a liberal thinker.

What sacrifices have you had to make for the success of Wecyclers?
Wecyclers is a social enterprise, which means that social good comes before profits. As a holder of an MBA degree from MIT Sloan, I could have gotten a job from multiple international and local organizations who would have been paying high salaries. I decided to make a sacrifice and take a big paycut in order to build Wecyclers.

We observed that the new companies taking up the Recycling space are run by women; is this coincidence or are women just better poised for the peculiarity of Recycling as a business?
I think women are uniquely positioned to appreciate the importance of recycling as it relates to environmental health and future sustainability of the planet. That being said, there are a lot of men all around the world working in the environmental space, recycling and environmental sustainability is not just the job of one gender or the other.

Being a beneficiary of several grants, would you say grant writing is a necessary skill needed to be successful especially in your sector?
Absolutely. This is true for every social enterprise.

Does Wecyclers implement any CSR project
Wecyclers carries out regular community clean-ups where we encourage communities to clean up their surroundings and promote increased sensitization on the impacts clean surroundings have on health and well-being. We have carried out clean-ups in various parts of Lagos and in other states including Surulere, Ebute-Metta, Lagos Island, Ilashe, Otta in Ogun State and Ibadan in Oyo State.

From the demonstrated ability to make commercial sense of waste collection, are there plans of exploring other areas of waste management?
We are currently focusing on recycling and growing our current business.

How far do you think recycling can go to achieve sustainable development in Nigeria?
Having a strong recycling sector nicely solves a lot of issues with regard to sustainable development. Issues like job creation, cleaner communities, increased awareness among many other things are directly addressed through recycling.

What would be your advice to young people looking to take on recycling initiatives in Nigeria?
Working within the recycling sector is very challenging because of the absence of relevant policies to promote and sustain recycling. Many of the people working in the space do so out of passion and are working despite significant challenges and setbacks. I would advice young people to adopt a long-term view, things may not work out in the short term but I’m confident that the recycling sector will grow to become supportive of players which would in turn promote sustainable economic development in Nigeria.

What would you want government to do better to support recycling in Nigeria?
The government needs to put the right policies in place to promote recycling. Policies like Extended Producer Responsibility and Zero Waste to Landfill for corporates should be on the books and enforced. The government should also encourage waste companies by providing them with a favourable taxation environment vis a vis VAT exemptions and pioneer status.

What are your favourite SDGS and Why?

1 (No poverty) – Would ensure that everyone around the world lives comfortably and have a fair chance at success.

4 (Quality Education) – In my opinion, we have a ticking time bomb on our hands. We have not invested enough in education. The provision of quality education should be a high priority.

5 (Gender Equality) – This would ensure that all around the world, people are treated the same regardless of gender. So much injustice is being justified on gender grounds.

12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) – Humans are recklessly endangering the planet with our current practices, this is not sustainable.

16 (Peace, Justice and Strong institutions) – Very vital.

What is it about you that not alot of people know?
I’m very bad at remembering faces and names.

How can people reach you or learn about your work?
Twitter: @bilikiss