Fisk University - B.S., Computer Science
Vanderbilt University - M.S., Computer Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management - M.B.A.
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola was an IBM software engineer, developing social networking software that was used by thousands, primarily at Fortune 500 companies. But, she had this nagging feeling that it was time to do something that would directly impact her native country, Nigeria.
Determined to fix the urban waste management system in Nigeria, she received a Legatum Fellowship, and then met and partnered with Alex Fallon, a fellow student. Together, they came up with the perfect idea: Wecyclers, a crowd-sourced recycling platform built around bikes welded to trailers (what the company calls cargo bikes) operating in Lagos, Nigeria. Wecyclers aims to give low-income communities a chance to extract value from waste and clean up their neighborhoods via incentive-based recycling. After all, only 40 percent of the city’s garbage from more than 18 million people is collected by Lagos’s municipal government. And, of that, a mere 13 percent of recyclable materials are salvaged from landfills.
Wecyclers has set out to change those alarming numbers and since its inception has received funding from MIT Public Service Center (PSC), the MIT $100K ACCELERATE Contest and the Carroll L. Wilson Award.
I think what comes to mind is the feeling that I’m doing exactly what I love to do and that I am making a difference.
What's it like being a CEO? What responsibilities do you have in your job?
As the CEO of Wecyclers Nigeria Limited, I am in charge of setting the vision for the company. Since we are a startup, we are a bit resource constrained, and I am responsible for a wide range of activities as diverse as designing our wecycles, setting operational processes for our hubs, creating relationships with buyers, executing sales of collected materials, developing relationships with partners and handling our points redemption program, among many other things.
How did you decide a job in this career field was right for you?
I worked at IBM for five years, and while in the United States, I maintained close ties to Nigeria. I visited quite a bit and saw how serious the problem of unmanaged waste was. I felt that I had to do something about this problem; if I didn’t, then who would?
What is your favorite part of your job?
I’m lucky enough to say that there are several, but my absolute favorite has to be interacting with our Wecyclers (bicycle collection operators). It's very energizing to talk with them and learn about their life experiences. To see young people step up and take charge of their lives is quite humbling. Many Wecyclers are breadwinners for their families who depend on them to survive.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
I would say resources—especially funding. I am convinced our model can work, but it’s very challenging to get to where we need to go if we don’t have enough funds. It’s a daily battle.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Work/life balance is always a problem. I have Wecyclers on my mind every day of the week. I regularly hop on Skype calls at night and work on presentations as well as customer interactions during my weekends. I also have two daughters who I enjoy spending time with, so I try to schedule my time so that I start the day with them and drop them off at school. We also try to eat dinner together as a family whenever possible.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I made it!” What was it?
I’m constantly striving to do better. I think what comes to mind is the feeling that I’m doing exactly what I love to do and that I am making a difference.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Try not to overthink things, stay committed and respect people.
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?
You need to have great people skills. We are a service-oriented company, and the customer always comes first!
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
At 21, I had just graduated from college with a 3.99/4 GPA and was just beginning graduate school. Needless to say, my social life was almost non-existent. I would tell her to travel the world and have fun.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I hope to have helped grow Wecyclers to a point where it is a respected recyclable collection company. My role models are companies like Recology, Casella and Waste Management in the United States.