For the second edition of the Smart Cities Innovation Awards held this past week, the French newspaper Le Monde thought big. Nigerian startup WeCyclers, co-founded by Bilikiss Adebiyi, the innovative startup that brings domestic waste collection and treatment to Nigeria through a fleet of cargo-bikes and a waste sorting hub, was awarded with the prestigious International Grand Prize at the awards event held in Singapore.
With its smart waste collection initiative that can be replicated in other developing countries, WeCyclers fit perfectly into the new smart city paradigm. Indeed the Wecyclers project aims to make waste collection a source of economic development and public health improvement in Nigeria. The country has been experiencing a serious waste treatment crisis: in Lagos, the city where WeCyclers' cofounder and MIT alumni Bilikiss Adebiyi was born, only 40% of waste materials are collected and 13% recycled. This means that everyday 10,000 tonnes of litter piles up in the city streets which leads to a number of health issues and the rapid spread of diseases for the population living in slums near those open landfill sites. This situation is not specific to Nigeria as many African countries are also experiencing the same challenge. According to UN reports, only 10% of garbage disposal is collected throughout the African continent and what's left is generally burnt or littered.
Everyone benefits from this innovative waste management project: of course, the planet from an ecological perspective, but also potential local entrepreneurs, and most-of-all the citizens themselves. WeCyclers had to change people's way of thinking in order to implement its system. Nigerians don't necessarily "connect the dots" when it comes to unproper waste management and the deterioration of their living standards and their health. They had to be somewhat educated on this matter. To do so, WeCyclers designed an incentive mechanism through mobile gamification and rewards. Mobile is indeed a good choice as it is a driver to economic growth in the African market: Africa isthe fastest-growing mobile market in the world and the 2nd largest market. Wecyclers uses this technology to send recommendations to citizens via SMS. For every kilogramme of collected waste material, users are granted "points" that can be turned into rewards, which are usually consumer products.
This shift in people's way of thinking appears as fundamental to impulse a form of global citizen's consciousness. This allows them to be agents of change and to find a role in their region's environmental, economical, and social development. In some way, Wecyclers is a source of empowerment for the population.
Find out more about WeCyclers and the work of Bilikiss Adebiyi here.