Gurgaon-based Kalyani Khona, the 22-year-old founder of Wanted Umbrella, India’s first matchmaking site for the differently-abled, has started a crowdfunding campaign for the Loveability app. She talks to The Goodwill Project about her venture.
What prompted you to start Wanted Umbrella?
Started in 2014, Wanted Umbrella is a matchmaking agency focusing on people with disability. I started this venture after I was quite disheartened with the attitude of existing matrimonial websites towards people with disability and felt the need to do something about it. So, to test waters, we began with The Matrimony Project. We took few registrations to understand the issues and pain-points people with disability or disorder face with regards to matrimony and were shocked to discover that most of them didn’t even consider themselves to be marriageable. Our society has limited their thinking to believe that their mere survival is enough. We want to change this thinking and provide them with equal opportunities to experience love and companionship. No one deserves to live alone unless they wish to.
What did you do before this?
I’ve graduated in finance from H.R. College of Commerce & Economics and worked with AIESEC, a not-for-profit organization, for two years before getting into this full- time. Being an alumnus, I am still working with AIESEC on their upcoming event International Congress 2015 happening in New Delhi soon.
Have you come across any similar ventures that inspired you to do this?
Having nothing around inspired me to build Wanted Umbrella. Never came across any similar venture.
We have 150 members from 20 cities and around 1,000 registrations, but we have not been able to manage more than 150 personally with our hands-on agency model. Hence, we are working on a matchmaking app called Loveability, which focuses on people with disability by being accessible to visually impaired individuals and ensure that connections happen on data/information and less on images or pictures. You’ll find more information on the app here: https://www.wishberry.in/campaign/loveability/
What are the activities? Is it primarily for dating and matrimony?
We help you find love—different age groups and demographics command different levels of commitment. But, to answer your question, it is primarily dating, matrimony and companionship.
Tell us about the people who have enrolled and their experiences. How have they reacted to this?
Well, we have set up a few virtual as well as personal meetings and the feedback has been good so far. Most of our members wrote to us saying the quality of people they are meeting through our services is better compared to their results elsewhere. For many, these meetings and dating is a new experience and it will take time for them to open up to conversations. However, overall reaction from someone in 20s to 40s has been great and each case study has been unique in nature. I’m personally humbled by the trust our members have shown in us.
We have started with Social Spaces, which is an initiative of Wanted Umbrella, to create an all-inclusive social forum. Our very first social space happened in Hauz Khas with 25 people (a mixed bag of people with disability and non-disabled) from the age bracket of 20-55 years present at Kunzum Cafe. Collectively, our biggest learning was that people with disability know how to find solutions to every activity their disability may limit them from doing. A girl on crutches can wear a saree and a man with no sensation in his legs can drive a car. So, next time let the person with disability in your class/ office decide what they can and/or cannot do and don’t forget to invite them to hang out with you. Having spent our Sunday on something this meaningful, everyone went home happy. Nina found someone to create audio books for her. Zara, the girl with cerebral palsy and Aina, the girl with hearing impairment successfully visited Hauz Khas (New Delhi) for the first time (names changed to protect identity). As for the rest of us, in our “make a wish” session, we pledged to be more aware of people with disability and say hi (and not stare) the next time we see them.
What are the obstacles the disabled face when trying to meet those of the opposite sex or simply trying to get social?
When we spoke to 300 people with disability as a part of Project 300, we found that 80% of our members spend their maximum time on internet, books or mobile phone and 30% wished they had social skills and confidence to approach someone interesting from the opposite gender. Nearly 45% of our members would be glad to experience a music festival or concert and 96% would pay to travel locally or internationally if it is an accessible location. I would not like to generalise here but according to me, exposure to equal opportunities, accessible locations and social skills are major obstacles faced by people with disability.
What social mindsets do you find yourself up against?
The biggest social mindset of the masses that I am trying to change at the moment is not that people with disability also have the right to look for love but that people with disability can also afford to look for love and as much as I am trying to create an impact by building something useful, I am also here to create business.
What are your future plans?
With disability and technology being uniform throughout the world, in the next two years, we plan to be in four pockets worldwide i.e. India, USA, UK & Egypt with 1 million+ users through our matchmaking app Loveability.
What did you think of Margarita with a Straw?
It could not reach out to the masses due to the complete focus being on someone with a wheelchair, which may not connect to everyone. The story could have been more complete with disability being just a part of life. I think they did a great job with it, but I’m more for movies like Barfi. Both the movies were different and had a feel-good factor when you leave the cinema hall.
Watch Kalyani here: http://youtu.be/6UyL85Z_4yM
For more, visit www.wantedumbrella.com
Visit the crowd-funding campaign here: https://www.wishberry.in/campaign/loveability/