Building Abulé: A Sustainable Care Economy
Our dialect is togetherness. Our culture is love.
I am one of them! A tapped out, burned out single mom of color who went from a six figure tech job to nearly homeless. Never did I think I’d become yet another statistic.
My name is Toyosi Babalola, founder of Abulé, which means ‘Village’ in my native language, Yoruba.
Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I vividly recollect having aunties, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends around to help at the spur of a moment. That nostalgic feeling was what I’d hoped to experience when I became a mom nearly ten years ago.
I came to the United States as a college student and earned my Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from Stony Brook University in New York. I had a severe case of idiopathic scoliosis and had a spinal fusion surgery to correct it when I first arrived in the U.S. Even after surgery though, my symptoms still persist, and I am in constant pain.
Following graduation, I moved to the Washington, D.C. area where I began my career at Lockheed Martin. Shortly after, I got married and had a daughter. My marriage was difficult, it ended after a couple of years, and I was left to raise our child alone. I moved in with some high school friends I’d known in Nigeria — my abulé here. I was very grateful for them and stayed with them for about a year.
I was fortunate to be able to work remotely long before it became the norm. I moved into my own place and took a new job. My daughter was accepted into a great charter school in D.C., so I moved closer, but everything was happening so quickly — the divorce, the move, my daughter starting a new school. I never had the chance to process what we’d gone through, which was a lot. It was crazy, but I just kept going and going — doing it all alone. Until I couldn’t anymore.
The stress of the divorce plus my health issues started to impact my performance at work. I’d always been a top performer, but now I was barely making it. I would blank out sometimes in front of the computer. That’s why I eventually lost my job.
I’d worked in the IT industry for over a decade, and, like most parents, I struggled to achieve work-life balance. As a single mom and a scoliosis warrior, the struggles were exacerbated when I needed to go to therapy, yet my family lived far away. To survive, I needed a tribe. But where could I find the people that shared my values, people that I would trust to care for my child?
Yes, there were mom groups, Facebook groups, nanny services, etc., but none of these solved all the problems in one solution.
The pandemic has been a horrible tragedy, but I do believe it has brought some blessings. I certainly don’t wish that it happened, but I wish that we’d learnt the lesson it taught us much sooner: that community is all we’ve got. We need to stop pointing fingers and start taking action to shape the care economy we wish to live in. Let’s stop waiting for our employers and the government. Let’s start looking inwards on how to make small contributions to help one another so that we can create a huge network effect.
But how can we offer support when we constantly judge, shame, and compete with one another?
During the lowest part of this journey of life, I’d lost my identity. I thought I’d failed myself, yet I was functioning on autopilot–so much so that my doctor stated that my vital stats were failing and I needed a break. The societal expectations were so much of a burden to bear, that I didn’t see a way out. I always had a track record of being an overachiever, but there I was: a jobless, single mom with nothing left to hold me up but a fused spine.
At a networking event in D.C., I met the editor in chief of climate change, Joe Romm, who listened to me speak and told me I had to tell my story. But what was my story and how can I rewrite it?
We had a couple of mentoring sessions that guided me through defining my past, my present and the legacy I hope to leave. It helped me define the five pillars that I’ve come to live by: awareness, appreciation, acceptance, perseverance and preservation. These are the five pillars upon which my company, Abulé, is built.
Unemployment was a turning point for me. It not only allowed me to address my health issues but enabled me to re-evaluate my life priorities; It became all about taking care of my daughter and ensuring that I stayed healthy.
While reflecting, I questioned how and where I thought I’d failed; like most parents, I struggled to achieve the so-called work-life balance. The light bulb moment went off when I realized that the root cause of the crisis stems from our reliance on systems rather than communities to fulfill our childcare needs. The answers were clear to me way before the pandemic rang the fire alarms on the care crisis. The old way of doing things isn’t serving us–it is simply not sustainable. We need a new care model that is flexible, comprehensive and affordable, and that’s what Abulé is set to achieve.
In the midst of this personal crisis, I built a new abulé of neighbors and fellow parents from my daughter’s new school. My community was wonderful, but I felt awkward always asking for help. So, I started bartering. I’d pick up their kids if they were stuck at work. They’d watch my daughter for a couple of hours so I could get some time to rest.
It was the bartering for shared childcare and errands, and leveraging my IT knowledge to teach STEM classes at my daughter’s school that got me thinking about creating the perfect abulé for parents.
I interviewed a lot of parents who loved the idea of bartering routine tasks, and sharing our professional skills, wisdom, and unique talents with our children. I discovered that like me, they often felt awkward asking for help, but if they could trade responsibilities, they were more comfortable. I also noticed that stay-at-home parents were thrilled with the idea of earning some income using their talents and abilities.
I had a very strong vision that I needed to build this village, this Abulé, for the world. One lucid dream after another, I started to piece together what an ideal care economy would look like. I soon realized that the dream was bigger than me, and that I am merely a vessel. I knew I needed to leverage my technology prowess and gather kindred souls to solve this very real problem of caring for family members. And so my founder journey began three years ago after I lost my job.
For a year, I white-boarded Abulé as a virtual hub where like-minded parents could connect, sync schedules, and meet common care needs. I ultimately developed a way to use digital technology to match parents in need with benevolent, trustworthy caregivers and launched virtual summer activities for children during the pandemic. Activities and classes included bread baking, coding and data analysis to name a few. There was even a mom in California who taught kids how medicine is made on Abulé!
We all know that being a founder isn’t for the faint of heart — the ups and downs, the victories and the lessons learned can be stomach churning and exhilarating. That said, being a black female technical founder takes the struggles to a whole new level. You’d think that fundraising for such a feat wouldn’t be nearly as challenging given the dire state of the care economy! And yet, no after no after no was all I heard.
And so, true to my nature, rather than give up, I did what I know how to do best, and I started to build Abulé’s platform from scratch on my own. The good news is that technology has caught up with my idea and BLOCKCHAIN is the perfect foundation for building a truly decentralized care economy that is owned and governed by the people. We get to set the true value of caregiving, reward good behavior, and redefine the care economy as a collective.
Abulé is more than just about bartering childcare and school pick-ups. When you look at a village, you see multiple relationships built on trust. I’m hoping to not only help with the physical needs of caregiving, but also the mental and emotional support often needed. Abulé is designed to provide a holistic approach to care management — for childcare, eldercare, and household care. A safe space where people receive encouragement and support.
We are committed to creating a global village where people can achieve work-life harmony. At Abulé, we are set on challenging the status quo. If this was just about making money, I’d go out and find a new job. That’s not difficult for me. But a job will not help change our narrative — we want to see a positive change in how we live our lives as families.
It is true that nothing in this world can quite prepare you for motherhood … the ups and downs, the tears and the laughter, the exhaustion and the passion. But, I encourage you to embrace it all with a grateful heart as many before us have thread the path — after all, we’ve birthed nations! Through your journey, strive to achieve HARMONY rather than BALANCE, do not compare your journey to other’s, remain flexible to the nuances that each day brings, know that it is perfectly okay to NOT be perfect, let go of the undertone of shame and guilt often attached with asking others for help, be a strong shoulder of support when others may feel weak. Most importantly, lean on each other rather than a system, schedule or routine — these may fail, but a STRONG COMMUNITY never will. Let’s go back to the culture of togetherness we once knew and loved. Together we will THRIVE! Visit abule.io to get involved.
“Regardless of a child’s biological parents, its upbringing belongs to the community.”
- AFRICAN PROVERB