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Stats: 253 members, 2,887 topics. Date: October 22, 2018, 9:49 am
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, an entrepreneur passionate about building sustainable models for waste collection in the developing world, took advantage of her education to make wealth from what many run away from, waste.
Did your educational qualification prepare you for your current job?
I had my MBA at MIT, Sloan – the best business school in the world – and started learning about people that live at the bottom of the income pyramid (people living on less than $2 a day). While working on a project to help these households in developing countries, I decided to work on waste – focusing on its uses, collection and processing.
After the project was completed, I conducted additional research focusing on Nigeria and saw the huge potential in the waste-recycling sector, especially among the manufacturing plants who are hungry for 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.
How did your family background influence your current occupation?
I am grateful to my parents, people who value hard work and have a very strong moral code. I remember, many times, as a young girl, my father would encourage me to do my best regardless of society’s expectations of me as a woman. That really pushed me to try and excel in everything.
Tell us about your business
Wecyclers is an award-winning company that is committed to improving recycling in Nigeria. We address the challenge of waste management and unemployment by offering sustainable and convenient recycling services to low/middle income households and businesses while creating grassroots jobs and economic partnerships.
We are the foremost recycling company that uses an incentive based model, where we reach out to low-income households. We help handle their recyclable waste, reduce and divert the volume of waste that gets to the landfill, thereby preventing diseases from spreading in the community as a result of flooding which is caused by blocked drainages.
Wecyclers turns waste into wealth and supplements the income of thousands of households. Since August 2012, Wecyclers has registered over 15,000 households for our collection service in three Lagos neighborhoods, collected over 3,000 metric tons of recyclable materials, created over 100 jobs and rewarded our subscribers with over $75,000 worth of gifts and cash prizes.
How did you get to this point?
I figured out that I wanted to be with people and I wanted to give back to the world. So I quit my job at IBM and I went to MIT for my MBA to rediscover my purpose. I had an interest in environmental issues and had been recycling my personal waste since my university days, but studying statistics on poverty and social development in Nigeria while pursuing my MBA really got me thinking about how I could contribute a solution. That was how I decided to go into waste recycling.
Before you became this big, what were the challenges you encountered?
Wecyclers is a fast growing company and I wouldn’t say that we’re big, but I would say and there were lots of people who didn’t understand my obsession for waste, which seemed like doubt in some cases. I have been able to prove to lots of people that waste is actually wealth.
What did your friends say about your job at the beginning?
I had friends who pushed me in the right direction when I started Wecyclers, and these friends are still there even till now. They helped with research, survey and putting out my idea. As an entrepreneur, it is advisable to surround yourself with people with the same vision and goals as you.
What is your biggest attainment?
We have been able to integrate recycling into the waste management system in Lagos State.
Do you regret being an entrepreneur?
No, I don’t. I always knew that I wanted to do something different. After five years, I quit my job and applied for an MBA. I realized I was on the right career path when I aligned my work, which promotes a healthy environment and helps households create value from their waste, aligned with my passion for building sustainable models for waste collection and refuse. I’m using my background in computer science and technology to solve a critical societal challenge.
How was it working for someone?
Before Wecyclers, I was a software engineer working for one of the largest companies in the world, building social networking software that served thousands of users at Fortune 500 companies.
How was the experience?
I worked for IBM for five years where I worked on a few projects developing some interesting products for our customers. I was also responsible for providing support for IBM’s 400,000 employees globally and I could be called at 2am on a Saturday to fix a broken server. I was lucky to be working under a very intelligent boss who gave me a lot of responsibilities and also gave me big projects to work on.
How did you raise your start-up capital?
Capital was raised through grants.
How has government policy helped or hindered you?
Our partnership with Lagos State Government and organizations has been a critical part of Wecyclers’ development. We have benefitted greatly from the Lagos State Government’s progressiveness and openness to working with organizations that provide solutions to Lagosians’ challenges. Wecyclers recently received a grant from the Lagos State Government to expand our collection and processing services into two new local government areas, create 120 jobs and eight microenterprises and reach an addition 68,000 Lagosians.
What is the biggest lesson life has taught you as an entrepreneur?
If you want to become an entrepreneur, or even better, a social entrepreneur, uncover your purpose, match it to a need that exists, and be selfless. Don’t just focus on short-term results!
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