Going by the title of the post, you would wonder it is just another matchmaking agency coming into the foray. Yes Wanted Umbrella (here after referred to as WU) is a matchmaking agency, which is just born into the Indian Matrimony industry but with a difference. How? Read On.
According to the United Nations, 40-80 million disabled people, the world’s largest minority, live in India. Of this, only 5% or less get married. To help solve this issue and stigma associated with it, WU was recently established as a professional agency to provide safe and innovative platform to every member through curated events & group dinner meetings so that they could connect to the like-minded for the purpose of marriage.
Indelible Musings caught up with 21 year old, Kalyani Khona (here after referred to as KK), founder of this urban matchmaking agency.
About herself and the Venture
KK: Having spent more than five months on setting up the entire process and ecosystem of this concept, I think this is one of the few professional agencies or perhaps the only one in India providing such a platform to everyone without any biases.
While I was exploring my options to find out what my exact calling is, I decided to take up a personal project. It is called- PROJECT-20. Project 20 is all about me working in 20 different companies/organizations/NGOs for a specific pre-determined duration ranging from 4 weeks to 8 weeks. The projects would range from teaching English to Portuguese speaking students in Brazil to trekking the Himalayas and from working in an MNC like HSBC to exploring the whole start-up ecosystem by working with Citrus Pay, Gateway House etc. During my graduation, I was also heading the Mumbai chapter of AIESEC;[World's largest youth-run organization] as the vice president.
I love meeting new people and connecting them to each other and thus initially the plan was to set-up a normal match-making agency providing curated events and experiences. During Project-20, I noticed that all my senior managers or colleagues had limited friends outside their social circle. They were smart, well-dressed and one of the coolest people to hang out with but since they worked for more than 9 hours a day, there was limited effort from their end as well as lack of options to actually meet new people. They also wanted to save themselves the embarrassment of being found online while trying to find a match for themselves. Thus, the whole idea struck me and since I have always been into events, I just brought the two together.
The disability matrimony part came in much later. I was looking for offices in Mumbai and they told me that disabled people were not allowed in office premises. I went deeper to find out how these disabled people meet or what they do in their spare time. I realized that like many of the physically fit senior managers, the physically disabled too had lack of options. Due to the infrastructure of our country, they had even lesser opportunities to meet new people.
I remember going to a matrimonial site's offline chapter, where they indirectly told me that since they make money with the million+ profiles already, matrimonial alliance for disabled does not fit the bill.
The Response to the initiative Has Been Like...
KK: I have been working on this venture since six months now. However, it went live only on 1st July, 2014. It has been a month now and I have more than 8 members who have completed their documentation process. Apart from this, I have few more in pipeline. I get 4-5 calls on an average everyday. I observed a clear gap, which all my members or people who call me agree too.
Currently, my major focus is on setting up an advisory board of thought leaders working with NGOs, HR consultancy firms for disabled and other such entities to help me with meet-ups, optimizing business processes and mentorship.
Also, I am setting up a base in Bangalore with the guidance from Amba, who lives there and herself faces a lot of difficulties due to her disability. My next destination is Delhi.
How matchmaking works at WU
KK: I conduct different activities ranging from table for six meetings to one-on-one meetings. If I have people coming from similar experiences or background, it makes much more sense to set-up a table for six where they can meet more people in limited span of time. It also depends on the disability type or matters like discomfort meeting a lot of people or lack of confidence to meet someone directly. Thus, depending on my clients need and ability to communicate, I decide what would fit them the best. Apart from this, we host monthly meet-ups and quarterly events for all our members to come under the same roof.
I love connecting new people to each other. With regards to matching people who are physically disabled or otherwise, I give all the credit to my mentor, Prabha Panse, who used to run a marriage bureau specializing in matchmaking of physically disabled during the 1990s. She has helped me with all the ground work. From matching people based on disability type to instruments used to the family expectations and other such nuances.
Match-making is not a process oriented job. It is experience and communication based. Each case is a new experience and each person coming to me needs a different method of communication. This is not just related to the disabled but even people who are special cases like obese, divorcees or senior citizens.
Every conversation leaves you with a lot of learning. Patience and being open-minded to each scenario, expectations and demands is the only way to survive as a professional match-maker. I feel no one deserves to live alone unless they wish to.
I have got great response from the business as well as entrepreneurial community and thus I have started getting clients from them as well. They are non-disabled working professional who lack options or do not want to be found online hunting for a match.
KK: Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Surat and Mumbai are my prime focus right now. Besides, my process works in a way where if you are from Delhi and I find some great profiles for you who reside in Mumbai, I can set up all your meetings with shortlisted profiles in one day to maximize your time and resources. Similarly, if I think two of my members residing in Delhi should meet each other, I will communicate the same to them and they take it forward from there. Also, I plan to go to Bangalore, Surat and Delhi for table for six once a month. It is all based on demand and supply.
KK: One of my biggest challenge and focus is on keeping my membership- male to female ratio to 2:1 or 1:1 to ensure adequate options to both the parties.I have been told that online match making involves buying subscription to ensure a good match and there is public display of your profile or contact details as long as the opposite party pays for that information.
It is more of wanting to save themselves the embarrassment of being found online while trying to find a match for themselves and the security reasons that keep them away from the online websites. Also, I think finding a partner needs to be a more personalized and confidential process which is one of the reason people want to stay away from it.
Apart from this, we want to find partners at a platform where we can interact with similar minds or people of our age group. However, many matrimonial sites I have been to are full of parents hunting partners for their children based on a complexion, job, background and country they live in. When you meet the children of the same parents in person, they want things exactly opposite of what was listed by their parents. Further, fake profiles and fake photos, pursing someone who might already be married but forgot to remove his profile make the story much more difficult.
All I am saying is it is match-making. You are not signing a property deal. People who get married fail to remove their profile and have no reason to inform matrimony sites what so ever, since it is a free service. Also, it is crowded with too many engineers, management professionals etc. Artists, start-up founders and other unheard professions are barely recognized.
My biggest concern and issue is that online match-making especially in India is not effective for professionally successful women beyond the socially accepted marriageable age.
Success so far
KK: All my members have been helping me widen my network and get more people involved. According to our census report on disability, the urban male to female ratio is around 4:3 and the same is reflected in my membership. It is 2:1 at the moment. When it comes to matchmaking for differently-abled, alliance takes time. For someone with Autism, s/he will take time to find his/her comfort to get talking. Matrimony comes at a later stage. Hence, my members are still getting to know each other.
Again, someone who is visually impaired will take her/his own time in finding comfort and method of communication. Normally matchmaking needs a lot of patience and here it is a new ball game altogether. It also needs location audits of residence and post-marriage consulting.
Brief background on WU members
KK: I have profiles ranging from someone who is an illustrator and data analyst to someone who could not complete her schooling due to infrastructure.Most of our members are trying to solve employment and other infrastructure issues and are thus associated with various NGOs and HR consultants. I am still building a network and establishing the base on which the whole concept will go further.