THE LADY BEHIND WECYCLERS

Bilikiss Adebiyi Abiola was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1983. She got her secondary education at the Supreme Education Foundation secondary school. She proceeded to the University of Lagos and left the University of Lagos after a year to complete her studies in the United States of America. She graduated from Fisk University and went further to Vanderbilt University where she earned 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). While at her second year at the MIT, where she was studying waste as her specialist subject, she came up with the idea for a recycling business. 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. Abiola took the idea back to MIT where she was able to gather support by entering her idea in competitions. Abiola’s husband had always been based in Nigeria so there was a good reason for her to return to Lagos, Nigeria 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 was 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 can 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.

Abiola currently has an arrangement with Coca-Cola and GlaxoSmithKline to subsidise their operation. Wecyclers found that a significant proportion of the rubbish came from these companies and they were willing to assist with the recycling effort.

Abiola’s efforts have been reported in Nigeria, the UK, US and Germany in 2014 and 2016. Coverage included CNN, Huffington Post , “Die Zeit”, The Independent, Marie Claire Magazine, The Economist , NDaniTV and D+C. 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.

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