African women are rapidly rising into their place; breaking strongholds, tearing barriers as they go; their voices resounding and unwavering even atop the mountains.
Thanks to the unique amazons who constantly dare to do the unconventional; the trendsetters who prefer to break new grounds rather than fit into hackneyed patterns and intimidating cultural demands.
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola is one such Amazon.
A graduate of Fisk University, Vanderbilt University and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Bilikiss is the CEO of Wecyclers; an innovative startup that uses an incentive-based program to help solve Nigeria’s grave waste management problem.
Starting in Lagos, Nigeria, in June 2012, Wecyclers aimed to reduce unmanaged urban waste in low-income neighborhoods and provide a consistent supply of materials to the local recycling industry.
Why low-income communities?
“Low income communities are the ones that are more affected,” Adebiyi-Abiola tells CNN African startup. “(People) end up living in their waste, so we basically saw that there was a really big need to provide collection services for people that are living in the low-income areas.”
Every week, the Wecyclers team cycle around low-income neighborhoods in Lagos, to pick up recyclable trash- plastic bottles, aluminum cans and plastic sachets from registered households; weighing them in kilos. After which, they are taken to the company’s central processing hub where they’re bagged and sold to secondary markets at premium pricing.
In return for their trash, participating households receive points via SMS, which when accumulated can be exchanged for rewards. Items like bowls, blenders, mobile phone air time and food products; most of which are funded by corporate sponsorship deals with big brands such as Coca Cola and GlaxoSmithKline.
‘After surveying waste we found their products represented 22% and 12% respectively,’ notes Bilikiss. ‘No big brand wants its name in the gutter!’
“Every three months they have opportunity to redeem the points for something,” The CEO tells CNN African Startup “we give them really small gifts that just motivate them and encourage them to recycle”
Although born and raised in Lagos, Bilikiss developed the idea for her business in the US while studying at the MIT Sloan School of Management, following a five-year career as a corporate software engineer. Assigned to a study project to help people at the bottom of the pyramid, Bilikiss decided to work on waste, having envisioned a thorough reformation in the Nigerian waste management system.
“I really love Lagos and I wanted to do something that would give back to it. For me, the environment is really where it all starts,” she adds. “When you have a clean environment then you have health, when you have health then you can start thinking about money, jobs and things like that.”
In as little as two years, the young CEO’s unwavering efforts have yielded great dividends and impacted the lives of many Nigerians. And the startup has now registered more than 5,000 households, created several jobs and has so far collected nearly 300 tons of waste, using a fleet of about 29 operational collection cargo bikes.
Wecyclers has also received several awards for contributing in no small measure to national development; including, the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award, Tech Award, Echoing Green Fellowship, MIT D-lab Scale-ups fellowship, MIT IDEAS Venture Grant, Yunus Challenge Prize at the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge Competition, Carroll Wilson Fellowship and is a Sustainia100 company.
The company has also been recognized in The Economist, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Punch, BBC, Marie Claire Magazine, New African Woman, The Independent among others.
Even with such great achievements, the power woman has no plans of taking things slow until she hits her target.
“I want to show the whole world that this is something that can succeed. That we can create a low-cost way of solving the Nigerian problems, the Lagos problems, here, with Lagos solutions,”
Indeed we can!!! Keep the fire burning great woman.