CEDA member profile: Indigenous Business Australia



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Rajiv Viswanathan,
Chief Executive Officer, Indigenous Business Australia

Can you tell us a bit about Indigenous Business Australia?

Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) was created to assist and enhance the economic development opportunities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia.

We do this by supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to buy their own homes, start or grow businesses, and by investing alongside Indigenous organisations.
 
Our vision is for a nation in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are economically independent and an integral part of the economy.

How have you seen IBA change in your time there?

Like any organisation, IBA has undergone significant change, adapting to dynamic and changing environment as more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people look to own their homes, get into business and invest for the future.
 
We are experiencing rapidly increased demand for our solutions and we recognise that we cannot be all things to all people. Our focus is on investing in those areas that mainstream lenders simply may not support. Our challenge is to keep pace with the changes and make sure that we continue to deliver relevant solutions and embrace new technologies and support our customers to participate in and be included in the Australian economy. We have also supported more women and youth to participate and be included in economic opportunities through our initiatives with the Strong Women Strong Business network and Futures Forum. 
 
During my time at IBA, Indigenous Australians have been increasingly looking to commercial approaches to unlock the potential of their assets, including land, water, know-how and much more.
 
At the same time, the impact investment market is taking off globally, as well as here in Australia, and governments are seeking to harness private capital and new financing techniques to drive more outcomes. As this occurs, IBA can be a catalyst for private investment into Indigenous focused ventures, bring to bear the significant pools of capital flowing to opportunities that deliver both financial and social returns.

Can you give an example of a business IBA has helped develop that you are particularly proud of?

We have many! Through our investment portfolio, we are financing the development of a low-earth orbit satellite ground station on Indigenous owned land in Alice Springs. The facility will be leased out to a global communications company, Viasat and will generate a revenue stream for the Centre for Appropriate Technology, an Indigenous community organisation who owns the underlying land, as well as creating employment and knowledge transfer opportunities.
 
We have also featured a series of innovative small businesses on SBS Small Business Secrets. Liandra Swim uses recycled ocean plastic in her swimwear line that incorporates beautiful designs each named after an Indigenous woman who inspired her. Bindam Mie takes boab nuts and processes them into tea, oil and a super powder used at a world class restaurant – all while providing employment opportunities to Indigenous youth in Broome. Banubanu Beach Retreat took a fishing shack and created a luxury retreat off the coast of Arnhem Land. And Warida Wholistic Wellness uses equine therapy to treat people with trauma. You can view the series on YouTube.
 
That is just the tip of the iceberg. For example, we’ve also developed a film finance product to finance award-winning Indigenous produced series Little J and Big Cuz as well as Mystery Road and the recent series, Total Control. And new ideas come in every day to our team.

A big part of IBA's mission is providing home loans. How do you make it easier for Indigenous Australians to access home loans and what’s the importance of your work in this space? 

Our Housing Solutions program is one of the longest standing and most successful programs in Indigenous affairs. Over the life of the program, more than 20,000 Indigenous families have been supported into home ownership, equating to more the $2.3 billion in assets in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hands.
 
IBA offer an affordable, simple and supported approach to home loans for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers that want to purchase their first home but have been unable to get financing from elsewhere. Once customers build a credit history with IBA they refinance to a mainstream bank, with the capital recycled into new originations.
 
Supporting home ownership for Indigenous Australians not only addresses the issue of housing but also increases their financial security and overall wellbeing. Our series with The Guardian Labs demonstrates the wider impacts.

What have been some of the highlights of your time at the IBA both personally and for the organisation?

Some of our highlights are:
 

  • Investing in new industries, such as renewable energy and satellite communications, and bringing together Indigenous organisations from across the country into fund structures to earn commercial and social returns.
 
  • Launching Strong Women Strong Business network and platform, which now boasts over 1700 Facebook members and an online mentoring platform for over 400 women. The platform is designed to help the women get support and advice from each other, access tailored content to build their business skills, find or become a mentor and grow their networks. Our second conference has been announced this year and we expect amazing things from this group.
 
  • Working with like-minded partners, including Melbourne Business School and Relative Creative, to support a network of dynamic young people in business who are leading economic development in their communities and inform IBA of the future needs of the growing sector.
 
  • Achieving record levels of lending, business support and investment returns, having deployed over $1 billion in capital into Indigenous hands since 1 July 2016. The vast majority of this has been generated from IBA’s own corpus and returns, and our net assets have grown from $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion.

 
From a personal perspective I have been privileged to work alongside, visit and learn from Indigenous businesses and organisations doing amazing things across the country, including in remote Australia. I have also been lucky to lead a workforce of fantastic people who are deeply aligned to our purpose and committed to make a difference in our customers’ lives.

What are your ambitions for IBA over the next five years?

The focus for IBA in the next five years is on our key pillars: customer success, smart money, strong systems and continuing to build our talent pool. That means delivering new initiatives that change the way we connect with customers and develop products, evaluating ways to deliver our existing products better and investigating new products that will meet emerging needs. In particular, we need to find new ways to tap into private capital in order to scale up to meet rapidly rising demand.

Why is IBA a CEDA member?

CEDA provides a platform for IBA to stay in touch with the latest in economic and development initiatives in Australia which impact the work we do. We hope to learn from other CEDA members and take those resources and connections back to our customers.
 
It’s also an important space to connect organisations with what we do. Creating a community where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are an integral part of the economy is a responsibility and a benefit for all of Australia.