After the Cambodian Civil War (1967–1975), the Khmer Rouge seized power and committed genocide (1975–1979). Kao Kim Hourn received very little formal education during his childhood due to the unstable and violent conditions in Cambodia at the time. His family was granted refugee status in 1981, and eventually relocated to Herndon, Virginia. There, Kao Kim Hourn enrolled in high school. He was 16 years old at the time and had very little educational experience and no English training. However, he was quite successful and graduated with a high school diploma three years later, in 1985. He then attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he did his B.A. in Asian Studies He received a National Fellowship Scholarship to Ohio University in Athens for his Master’s degree program. And in 1991, he graduated with two Master's degrees in Political Science and International Affairs. Additionally, he holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu. He received an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Public Service from Ohio University in 2007, as well as another Honorary Doctorate Degree in Literature from the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT University) of India in 2014.
Kao Kim Hourn received a grant from The Asia Foundation to conduct research on UN peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, and returned to Phnom Penh in January 1993, just 5 months prior to the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) administered elections.
He was appointed as director of the Khmer International Relations Institute, and held that office from 1993 to 1994. During his time as director, he developed the Cambodia Public Accountability and Transparency project (CPAT) with funding support from the Asia Foundation. The project, one of the first counter-corruption projects in the nation, did not receive sufficient funding, and thus could not produce significant results. The project was later transformed into the Center for Social Development (CSD) when Kao Kim Hourn launched another think-tank, the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP).
Kao Kim Hourn worked as CICP's first executive director for 10 years, until 2004, though he has remained as a Member of the Board of Directors (2004–present). The CICP was at the forefront of supporting Cambodia in becoming a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1999, the ASEAN Institutes of Strategic and International Studies and the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific (CSCAP) during Kao Kim Hourn's tenure. He has published many books on ASEAN and Cambodian-ASEAN relations, and gained significant experience in ASEAN through the activities of the ASEAN Institutes of Strategic and International Studies. His time at CICP also involved significant interactions with the Royal Government of Cambodia, as an advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Kao Kim Hourn served as Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Royal Government of Cambodia from 1996 to 1998, and again from 2001 to 2004 with the rank of Undersecretary of State. He also became a member of the Supreme National Economic Council with the rank of minister when SNEC was founded in 1999 and has been a member since then.
In 2003, Kao Kim Hourn co-founded The University of Cambodia (UC). UC offers degree programs based on the American credit-based system, with courses taught in the English language. Kao Kim Hourn was inspired to create a Cambodian higher education institution modeled in a similar way to the United States that focuses on developing students' critical thinking and problem solving skills. Those values are reflected in the vision and mission of The University of Cambodia. Under his direction, The University of Cambodia has established the College of Media and Communications to train students in a wide array of careers in the field of journalism and television production.
The University of Cambodia has established two think-tanks under the leadership of Kao Kim Hourn: the Asia Economic Forum (AEF) and the Asia Faiths Development Dialogue, both of which fall under the umbrella of the university.
Kao Kim Hourn is a founding committee member, and vice-chairman of AEF, which was established by UC in May 2005. AEF is a think-tank promoting policy dialogue around major issues facing the Asia-Pacific region. AEF has generally been held on an annual basis in Phnom Penh.
Kao Kim Hourn is also the Secretary General of the Asian Faiths Development Dialogue (AFDD), which was founded by Dr. Haruhisa Handa in December 2006. The purpose of AFDD is to enhance dialogue between different faith groups, and bring faith communities together to achieve humanitarian and development aims.
In 2004, he was appointed as Secretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation a position he held until 2013. During his tenure as Secretary of State, Kao Kim Hourn worked extensively with ASEAN, developing relationships and managing Cambodia's participation in the organization's many mechanisms. As such, he was a key player in the development and negotiation of the ASEAN Charter, as the Cambodian representative to the ASEAN High Level Task Force on the Drafting of the ASEAN Charter. In addition to ASEAN, Kao Kim Hourn was also responsible for the ASEAN Plus Three, the ASEAN Plus One mechanisms, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the East Asia Summit (EAS), as well as the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)
Since 2006, Kao Kim Hourn has served as the Vice Chairman for the Advisory Board of the International Relations Institute of Cambodia at the Office of the Council of Ministers.
In 2007, South East Asia Television and South East Asia Radio, popularly known as SEATV, were established by Kao Kim Hourn. The SEATV headquarters is located on UC’s Phnom Penh campus, and are used in conjunction with UC's College of Media and Communications for practical degree components.
He has concurrently served as a Member of the Board of Directors of the Worldwide Support for Development based in Tokyo since 2008. He has also served as a member of the Standing Committee of the Cambodian Red Cross for two terms, with each term serving up to five years (first term: 2008–2013; second term: 2013–present). He was Alternative Member for Cambodia's National Representation for the ASEAN Political-Security Council from August 2009 to September 2013, as well as Secretary-General of the ASEAN National Secretariat of Cambodia from 2004 to 2013.
In 2013, he was promoted to the position of Minister Delegate Attached to the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, in charge of Foreign Affairs and ASEAN, which he currently holds. From October 2016 to May 2017, he served as the vice chairman of Cambodia's Inter-Ministerial Committee for the World Economic Forum on ASEAN 2017. He currently serves as a Senior Fellow at the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia and is also a Member of the Global Council of The Asia Society.
Kao Kim Hourn was born in 1966 in Koh Sotin District in Kampong Cham province in Cambodia. His father was a school teacher throughout his life, except during the Khmer Rouge period when education was outlawed and teachers were targeted and killed. Due to the incredibly violent conditions in the nation, he and his family spent time living in refugee camps on the Cambodian-Thai border after the Khmer Rouge were removed from power in 1979, and they eventually relocated to the United States as refugees. After taking a long break from formal education, Kao Kim Hourn completed his extensive education in the United States. Kao Kim Hourn lives in Phnom Penh with his wife and two children. His wife, Khem Rany, is a member of the Board of Trustees and Vice President for General Affairs at the University of Cambodia, Director General of Southeast Asia Television and Radio, and Founder and Director General of Southeast Asia Production.Perspectives of A Cambodia Development for Peace in the Context of Southeast Asian Integration (1995) [Khmer and English]
Cambodia in ASEAN (1995) [English]
Peace from the Heart (1996) with Samraing Kamsan [Khmer]
Peace and Cooperation: Alternative Paradigms (1997) with Din Merican [English]
ASEAN Free Trade Agreement: Implications and Future Directions (1997) with Sarah Kanter [English]
Women's Political Voice in ASEAN: Sharing a Vision (1997) with Norbert von Hofmann [English]
Cambodian Approach to Conflict Resolution (1998) with Samraing Kamsan [Khmer]
Skepticism, Outrage, Hope: Reactions to the Death of Pol Pot (1998) with Tania Theriault [English]
ASEAN A to Z: A Lexicon of ASEAN-Related Terminology (1998)
Cambodia's Future in ASEAN: Dynamo or Dynamite? (1998) with Jeffrey A. Kaplan [English]
National Elections: Cambodia's Experiences and Expectations (1998) with Norbert von Hofmann [English]
Cambodia and the International Community: The Quest for Peace, Development, and Democracy (1998)
Principles Under Pressure: Cambodia and ASEAN's Non-Interference Policy (1999) with Jeffrey A. Kaplan [English]
Shared Leadership and Trust Building in Cambodia: Learning from the Past, Sharing Experiences, Views and Visions, and Drawing Lesson for the Future (1999) with Samraing Kamsan [Khmer and English]
Grassroots Democracy in Cambodia: Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects (1999) with Samraing Kamsan [Khmer and English]
ASEAN 10 is Born: Commemorating Cambodia's Entry into ASEAN (1999) [English]
Banking on Knowledge: The Genesis of the Global Development Network, "The challenges of intervention for Cambodian think tanks" (2000) [English]
The Greater Mekong Sub region and ASEAN from Backwaters to Headwaters (2000) with Jeffrey A. Kaplan [English]
Cambodia in the New Millennium: Managing the Past and Building the Future (2000) with Samraing Kamsan [Khmer]
Emerging Civil Society in Cambodia: Promotion of Human Rights and Advancement of Democracy (2001) with Samraing Kamsan and Luy Chanphal [Khmer]
ASEAN A to Z: A Lexicon of ASEAN-Related Terminology, 2nd Edition (2001)
Building Civil Society for Good Governance in Cambodia: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects (2001) with Samraing Kamsan [Khmer]
The Role and Function of Cambodian Parliament: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects (2001) with Van Buntheth and Luy Chanphal [Khmer]
Cambodia's Foreign Policy and ASEAN: from non-alignment to engagement (2002) [English]
Whispering in the Ears of Power: The Role of ASEAN Track-Two Diplomacy (2002) [English]
Communal Council Elections and Grassroots Democracy in Cambodia (2002) with Samraing Kamsan and Inn Tong Ann [Khmer]
Civil-Military Relations in Cambodia: Issues, Challenges and Prospects (2002) [Khmer and English]
Strengthening Civil Society-Government Partnership for Good Governance and Development in the Public Sector in Cambodia: Achievements, Challenges and Future Directions (2002) with Samraing Kamsan [Khmer]
Elections in Cambodia: Lessons Learned and Future Directions (2002) [Khmer and English]
Sustainable Development, Poverty Reduction and Good Governance in Cambodia (2002) with Chap Soptharith [Khmer]
Military Reform in Cambodia: Demobilization and Reintegration (2002) with Inn Tong Ann [Khmer]
Strengthening Civil Society-Parliament Partnership for Good Governance in Cambodia: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects (2003) with Samraing Kamsan [Khmer]
Legislative Review and Development in Cambodia in the Last Ten Years: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects (2004) with Samraing Kamsan [Khmer and English]
The Making of the ASEAN Charter, "A Personal Reflection" (2009) by Tommy Koh (2009) [English]
Medal of National Merit (2015)
Honorary Doctorate in Literature, Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, India (2014)
Honorary Doctorate of Public Service, Ohio University, U.S.A. (2007)
Royal Order of Cambodia, Grand Cross (2013)
Royal Order of Sowathara, Grand Officer (2007)
Royal Order of Cambodia, Grand Officer (2007)
Royal Order of Monisaraphon, Commander (2006)
Royal Order of Monisaraphon, Chevalier (2003)
Royal Order of Monisaraphon, Officer (2003)