While its recipe for franchisee profits and deep fried chicken pieces certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste, KFC is reportedly soon opening its first store in Cambodia. Apparently future expansion plans include KFC outlets for Laos and Burma. I have previously written about the dire state of the foreign fast food market in Burma. Although my piece is a few years old, it may be worth a look for anyone looking to learn a bit more about what happens in a land of “fake” McChickens.

But McDonalds isn’t the issue here. KFC has something potentially much more interesting going on.

What intrigues me most about this KFC expansion into some of the poorer parts of Southeast Asia is inspired by a recent experience in Kolkata. Late one afternoon, after a stint in the distant mountains of northeast India, I went looking for a dose of the Colonel’s special herbs and spices.

I don’t want to get overly emotional about this but I was struck, and very impressed, by the fact that almost all of the staff at this particular KFC are deaf. The place worked perfectly; customers are expected to point out their order on a small menu, and then “the system” takes over. It is easy and simple and fast. And in a town as tough as Kolkata I imagine that the opportunities available to many deaf people are few. A job at KFC must, for some, be a lifeline and a chance to build a great future for their families.

Anyone who wants to read more about this approach to KFC staffing can learn more in these pieces (from Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan and Egypt). It is clear that this is company policy – they want to hire people from a traditionally disadvantaged section of society. From what I saw of the KFC in Kolkata this is a simple, yet brilliant, idea. And, according to these accounts from around the world, it works well for everyone. In my case, the “Colonel’s Choice Burger” was fresh, and the customer service was top-notch. The server even tried to “suggestive sell”.

I wonder if this approach to staffing will be on the menu as the KFC brand is introduced to places like Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Yangon and Mandalay. Training people to run a KFC, and exposing them to all of its good points, and flaws, is one thing. It is a very different thing to deliberately seek out a highly competent yet disadvantaged part of society to be at the heart of a new business.

KFC is blazing a trail here. There is no reason, in my mind, why the Fujis, the Burger Kings and the MK Sukis of this world can’t follow suit. What do New Mandala readers think? Is this the type of corporate policy that should be encouraged? Will we be seeing it in Burma or Laos any time soon?