Turning Trash To Cash: Meet Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola Of Wecycler
Success, grand as it may seem, can come in many forms. A successful individual may find his or her fulfilment in trade, and another in services. But while both industries are the most common in the society, many people fail to realise they could also find riches in unexpected places. One of such is in recycling.
The recycling industry, detested by many for its trashy nature or their mere disbelief in its ability to house successful businesses, has created many millionaires; some of which have gone on to become nationwide celebrities.
This is the success story of Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, a former IBM programmer and MIT student who left everything behind to pursue greener pastures in the waste management industry by founding one of Nigeria’s most respected plastic recycling businesses called Wecyclers.
Here’s how she did it:
The Early Life And Education Of Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola was born in Lagos, Nigeria. Growing up, she attended the Supreme Education Foundation School and then proceeded to get a Law degree at the University of Lagos, also known as Unilag. Due to the safety concerns her parents had for her because of the increased cult activities in the school and dangers most ladies tended to experience, they decided to send her abroad to study computer science at Fisk University in the United States of America, at the age of 17. From Fisk, she went on to Vanderbilt University, where she obtained a masters degree.
Her Work Life
After her education, Bilikiss got a job with IBM, where she worked for 5 years as a computer programmer. An academic as she was, she further proceeded to the MIT Sloan School of Management (Massachesetts Institute of Technology) to get an MBA (Masters in Business Administration).
The Big Aha! Moment
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During Bilikiss’s second year in MIT, the drive to start a recycling business hit her.
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola was studying waste as her specialised subject. She first thought of a way to collect waste from households through offering them raffle tickets in exchange for their waste products. While still an idea, she discussed it with her family and friends in Nigeria when she was back home for the holidays. The response she got was amazing, and then, she knew she was on to something big, although most Americans didn’t exactly understand her idea at the time.
Now convinced by the mild validity she had gotten from her research, she returned to MIT and entered the school’s Ideas Global Challenge with her recycling plan, where she got immense support and encouragement to start up her business.
This was after she and her brother had tried to run a scrap metal venture that didn’t go according to plan.
According to an interview she had with EduAfrica, Bilikiss said: “We had been working on the idea for a while but it didn’t really take off. When you’re looking at something, you now start to notice other things, so that helped me see that waste is a problem.”
The Start Of Wecyclers
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After graduating from MIT, Bilikiss quit her job with IBM and returned to Nigeria to pursue her dreams. She co-founded a recycling business and named it Wecyclers.
By this time, Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola was already married, and would take a tricycle to do some plastic collections herself during the day in order to understand the business, while her children were away at school.
What her company Wecyclers practically did was to collect recyclable waste items like plastic bottles, aluminum cans and plastic sachets from thousands of low-income households in Lagos, after which the contributors would receive points via SMS, which could then be exchanged for rewards like food products, blenders, bowls, mobile recharge cards, and a whole lot more.
According to her interview with CNN, she said: “Every three months they have opportunity to redeem the points for something… So we give them really small gifts that just motivate them and encourage them to recycle.”
They use low-cost custom made cargo tricycles also known as Wecycles, to collect a large portion of the wastes, especially in areas where normal vehicles are unable to ply.
Their highly effective structure enabled them collect aluminum cans and plastic bottles, which are then sorted and sold to larger recycling companies.
Her Business Today
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Today Wecyclers is not just a business doing waste, but is a movement around waste, which has helped over 5,000 Nigerian households, and had at 2015, collected up to 500 tonnes of waste and employed over 80 people.
She has successfully helped low-income communities in Lagos, through her company, earn money by helping to clean up the wastes that pile up on the streets. She hasn’t just also helped reduce unemployment, but has also projected that the waste industry can create up to 500,000 more jobs in the country.
In a state which has a population of over 18 million people and generates up to 10,000 metric tonnes of waste products daily, Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola receives immense support from the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), whom are trying to double the volume of waste recycled in the state from the 18% figure published in 2011.
Wecyclers also has a partnership with Coca-cola and GlaxoSmithkline to collect their wastes and help subsidize their operations, because a bulk of the plastic wastes in the city of Lagos largely comes from these two companies.
As of 2015, Bilikiss has not just participated in various competitions and won, like the $55,000 Wecyclers won from the Case Foundation Pitch For Lagos, but was looking to raise an investment to the tune of $2,000,000.
Awards And Achievements
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola has since been heralded and spoken largely about in various countries like the United States, Nigeria, The United Kingdom, Germany, and on popular media outlets like The Independent, The Huffington Post, CNN, The Economist, and a whole lot more.
She has also won various awards like the Cartier’s Women Initiative for sub-saharan Africa in the year 2013, The Sustania Award, Seif Awards, and The Tech Awards.
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola was also recently appointed to the board of the Employment Trust Fund in Lagos State, Nigeria.
To Sum It All Up
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, although from an upper middle class family, is an example of a person who takes advantages of opportunities and chases them till she finds fulfilment. She follows her dreams irrespective of whatever anyone has to say, and constantly produces results no matter what setbacks she faces.