Through a partnership between Aboriginal entrepreneur hub The Circle and Renew Adelaide, KSJ Consulting has found much-needed office space. KSJ founder Kiara Johnson says more can be done to support the growth of SA's Aboriginal business sector.
Going beyond The Circle
Kiara Johnson grew up dreaming of running her own construction company.
As an adult, she’s spent her career working in government and construction, so she knew there would be barriers to achieving this dream.
Kiara is female and Aboriginal, communities which are both underrepresented in the industry – and even more so at the ownership level.
Pragmatic and a tireless advocate, Kiara founded her business, KSJ Consulting, as a service to help increase the amount of contract work procured from Aboriginal-owned businesses.
When the government or a developer needs to find a construction company to deliver a building or infrastructure project, Kiara will help them find an Aboriginal-owned one.
The consultancy also provides a service to help workplaces become more culturally safe for First Nations employees.
Part of the reason Kiara founded KSJ – and why the job she’s given herself is so difficult – is she says Aboriginal businesses are rarely seen as viable candidates for major projects. In addition to this, South Australia does not have a mandatory Aboriginal procurement policy, such as was introduced in New South Wales in 2021.
This necessitates consultancies like KSJ, but the business is also not immune to the challenges Kiara is working to solve.
“We’re often micro-managed,” Kiara says of operating a business as an Aboriginal woman, “and there’s often an assumption that we are more expensive.
“There’s an assumption that we need a lot more support, and that we don’t have the capacity to deliver as well as a mainstream business.
“In fact, it’s so bad that we’re constantly competing against non-Indigenous service providers that provide Aboriginal engagement support.
“It’s been really difficult to get the business up and going, dealing with the unconscious and conscious bias of being a social enterprise and/or an Aboriginal business.
“Especially a female-owned business who predominantly services the construction industry, has been really challenging as well.”
The conscious and unconscious biases Kiara has witnessed compound upon an “intergenerational lack of wealth” she says many Aboriginal people experience, leading to First Nations business owners being “not as well networked as other business owners”.
“We don’t get invited to the same level of functions that you would see other business owners able to attend,” she says. “Those networks, they’re just not there for us. They’re just not as established for us, either.”
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Still, KSJ is coming up to its fourth anniversary – a chronological marker of an established business. Key to its success has been Kiara’s early involvement with First Nations entrepreneurial hub The Circle.
The Circle is a resource for First Nations business owners and entrepreneurs looking for advice on building their companies and making new connections. It also functions as a space in which businesses with no formal office can host clients – rather than holding important meetings in cafés or home offices.
Established by operations manager Kelly May at Lot Fourteen, The Circle was the result of a significant amount of thought and planning before its launch in August 2021.
“[It] was a good 12 months of reviewing the First Nations-owned businesses that we know of in South Australia,” Kelly says.
“Really looking at the detail behind where they’re located, how big they are, how long they’ve been operating, what industries they’re in. Collating all of that information to build a picture of the First Nations business sector in South Australia.
“And then overlayed that with another set of research around all of their business support services that already existed, and trying to have a look at where the gaps were… and what were some of the barriers for participation and some of the services.”
Kelly says The Circle currently has more than 200 members, and through its research it knows of around 380 First Nations businesses in the state.
“In this calendar year alone, we’ve grown by over 40 businesses undertaking membership with us, so our reputation is obviously building and growing, and the demand is there as well, the services that we’re offering are really well-utilised,” Kelly says.
One area The Circle does not deal in is real estate, but Kelly does hear from the membership base that finding office space is difficult.
To provide a solve for this, The Circle has partnered with Renew Adelaide, which is able to provide accessible office space to The Circle members looking to level up.
“There’s three businesses now that we’ve supported, and there’s another couple that have filtered through that we’re looking for space for,” Renew Adelaide CEO says.
“The Circle’s… just passing on businesses to us who they feel are looking for space in Adelaide’s CBD. We might not always have that space available, but we’re also just presenting to them the options available through Renew.”
Kiara is one such member to have found office space through Renew. Her two businesses, KSJ and Platinum (the civil construction company she’d always dreamt of founding), are now located in Goldsbrough House, on the North Terrace side of the Myer Centre.
“I’ve known Kiara for a really long time, and we work really closely together through her businesses and her being part of the First Nations business sector in this state,” Kelly says.
“She had identified that… her businesses had grown to the point where she wanted to co-locate all of her staff, and wanted to be in the CBD, and she seemed a great match for the Renew Adelaide program.”
Prior to entering Goldsbrough House, Kiara and her team worked in disparate locations. Creating a focal point for her business has had a meaningful impact.
“We have an office that’s so centrally located in a beautiful building that enables us to walk to meetings, invite clients into our office, and demonstrate our professionalism as well,” Kiara says. “And invite the clients in so they can see how we operate and immerse themselves in an Aboriginal business office environment. I think that’s really something that was missing.”
While The Circle has been an invaluable resource to Kiara in growing her business, she says the hub has also been a way for her, and others within the South Australian First Nations business sector, to speak “direct back to government”.
“I’m a massive advocate in South Australia for the Aboriginal business sector, and it’s something I’m probably most proud of,” Kiara says.
“It’s not just the success of my businesses; for me, my personal success looks like having a successful Aboriginal sector that doesn’t require people like me to advocate for it, because it’s done in a way where it happens naturally.
“People want to buy from Aboriginal businesses, people see the socio-economic impacts of procuring from an Aboriginal business, and people do it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to include Aboriginal people in the economy.”
According to data published by the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, South Australian businesses account for 4.6 per cent of ORIC’s Top 500 Corporations.
Kiara says the strength and size of SA’s First Nations business sector would grow with the introduction of “a rigorous Aboriginal procurement policy”.
“If you look at the Western Australian government, they’ve introduced a rigorous Aboriginal procurement policy only two or three years ago, and they’ve been able to multiply that target every single year very successfully because they have visibility and accountability on their contractors and their government procurement,” Kiara says.
“I’m calling on the government to actually mandate Aboriginal participation and make it visible and make contractors accountable to their commitments.”
For more information on The Circle, visit the website.
If you’re in the market to trial a business idea in the CBD, get in touch with Renew Adelaide.
Connect with KSJ Consulting by visiting their website.
Connect with Platinum Construction via Facebook.