Here is an inspiring interview GIT Nigeria had with Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola;
Please tell us more about yourself.
My name is Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola and I am the CEO and Co-founder of Wecyclers Nigeria Limited.
I am a social entrepreneur who is passionate about building sustainable models for waste collection and reuse in the developing world. I am also the proud mother of two beautiful girls.
I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. I am a graduate of Fisk University, Vanderbilt University and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. While at MIT, I was a Legatum Fellow at MIT’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship and a vice president of the MIT Sloan Africa Business Club. I am also a Carroll Wilson Fellow, an Echoing Green Fellow and a 2013 recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards.
What do you like most about your career?
I like that my work makes me live a life of purpose and that it is having a positive effect on my country and my children. Wecyclers turns waste into wealth and supplements the income of thousands of households.
I also work with a group of people who, like me, are passionate about making a difference in the lives of our customers.
How did you decide that your current career is the right one for you? What interested you and started your path to what you do now?
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. The work I did was very important, but I always knew that I wanted to do something different. After five years, I quit my job and applied for an MBA.
I got into 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 a 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.
I realized I was on the right career path because my work, which promotes a healthy environment and helps households create value from their waste aligns with my passion for building sustainable models for waste collection and reuse. I’m using my background in computer science and technology to solve a critical societal challenge.
What are the challenges you have faced and still facing as a woman in a male-dominated field?
Two main challenges I have faced are funding and the wrong perception of people towards waste management.
Organizations, both local and international have been of immense help through grants and sponsorship to help augment the financial needs of the company.
In terms of trying to change the perception of the people, we have been able to educate people about recycling. We have had outreaches, educational lectures, and other awareness programs about proper waste management, disposal and the financial and environmental benefits of recycling.
Have you ever wanted to give up along the way?
When I moved back to Nigeria, people were initially apprehensive. They didn’t know what to make of my obsession with waste. However, when they saw how passionate I was about my idea, how I was able to build and motivate my team, they also began to take interest.
Being a social entrepreneur in Nigeria is tough. It’s not easy to raise capital, especially compared to entrepreneurs in other countries. There have even been customers who didn’t support us because they felt we were making a lot of money from the trash we were collecting from them and they expected more expensive rewards than what they got.
Have you ever felt being a woman in tech was a disadvantage? If yes, please share an experience.
I don’t stop to think of the fact that I am a woman. Of course, there are times when people treat me a certain way because I am a woman and then treat my male colleagues differently. There was even a time when a man in a community we were doing outreach at, insulted me. I was trying to convince him to support us, but he didn’t listen to me. He said he has someone like me at home so he doesn’t have to listen to my nonsense. (LOL)
I think being a woman is actually an advantage. I realized this very early in life. There are very few women in the technology field. I’ve benefitted from the fact that I’m usually the only woman in a sea of men. People want to hear more stories of women in tech and they have always encouraged me. I also think by nature, women are very good leaders. We are good multi-taskers, we are detail oriented and we rarely give up. I’m happy to be a woman and I would love to see more women step up an seize the many opportunities available, because there are many.
How many hours do you work a day on average?
It varies depending on the programs we have going on but I usually work 12 hours a day. Not just in the head office, but visiting the Wecyclers hubs, meeting with our partners, working on proposals, attending talks and other things that will help spread the message of recycling.
How do you handle defeat and/or failure as a woman in a male dominated field?
It’s difficult to deal with failures, but I remind myself of the progress I’ve been able to make so far, and I learn from these experiences. Every failure or defeat is a stepping stone to success. I feel bad in the short term but I always try to channel that negative energy into something productive.
Do you have any advice for upcoming female entrepreneurs?
If you want to become a social entrepreneur, uncover your purpose, match it to a need that exists, and be selfless. Don’t just focus on short-term results.
You have to be ready to sell your dream for others to buy into it, and if you don’t really believe it, nobody else will. So, share your passion and share your story. You never know who could be inspired to support you.
Also, as a woman be outspoken, don’t be afraid to be that talkative person in the room. We as women are sometimes scared to be assertive, it works against us, we need to be more assertive and always speak up no matter what.
Your favourite quote.
Verily, after the hardship, there is relief. – Quran chapter 94 verses 5 – 6