About Sophal


Sophal Ear, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School where he teaches courses on political economy and post-conflict reconstruction. Prior to joining NPS, he taught international development at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. He is a TED Fellow (2009), Fulbright Specialist (Chulalongkorn University, 2010), Council on Foreign Relations Term Member (2011), Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum (2011), a Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar (2012), an Independent Trustee of the Nathan Cummings Foundation (2012), and a Trustee of Partners for Development (2013). Dr. Ear also serves as Vice-Chair of Diagnostic Microbiology Development Program, a non-profit that builds laboratory capacity in the developing world. He advises the Master of Development Studies Program at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, and is on the Boards of the Journal of International Relations and Development (Palgrave), the International Public Management Journal (Taylor & Francis) and Journal of South-East Asian American Education & Advancement (University of Texas). He is the author of Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy (Columbia University Press, 2013) and co-author of The Hungry Dragon: How China’s Resources Quest is Reshaping the World (Routledge, 2013). He wrote and narrated the award-winning documentary film "The End/Beginning: Cambodia" (47 minutes, 2011) based on his 2009 TED Talk. Previously, he worked for the World Bank and the United Nations, and was an advisor for the private equity funds Leopard Capital (Cambodia) and MPIF (Macau). A graduate of Princeton and Berkeley, he moved to the United States from France as a Cambodian refugee at the age of 10.


Assistant Professor (Tenure-Track). Department of National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, June 2007-present. Teaching graduate-level “Introduction to Stabilization and Reconstruction” (NS3026), “Capstone Seminar on Stabilization and Reconstruction” (NS4026) in post-conflict countries and “Research Methods” (NS3011) classes in the Summer and Fall Quarters as well as short Regional Security Education Program focusing on Southeast Asia on U.S. Navy ships/carriers. Secret-level Clearance based on an Access National Agency Check with Inquiries (ANACI) Investigation completed May 19, 2008.


Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of Public Administration, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, August 2006-May 2007. Taught graduate-level course on “Policy and Administration in Developing Countries”.


Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley. Political Science. May 2006.
Dissertation: The Political Economy of Aid, Governance, and Policy-Making: Cambodia in Global, National, and Sectoral Perspectives.
Committee: David K. Leonard (Dissertation Chair), Bruce E. Cain, A. James Gregor, and Teh-Wei Hu (School of Public Health).

Ph.D. Examinations Passed
Orals Qualifying Exam (Advanced to Candidacy): January 2003.
East Asia (with emphasis on Southeast Asia): October 2002.
Methodology: May 2002 (course option).
Comparative Politics: March 2002.

M.A. University of California, Berkeley. Political Science. May 2002.
Essay: HHas More Aid Worsened Governance Since 1995? A Large-N Study of Six Quality of Governance IndicatorsH. (Reviewers: Pradeeb Chibber, Jim Robinson, and David K. Leonard).

M.S. University of California, Berkeley. Agricultural and Resource Economics. December 2001.

M.P.A. Princeton University. Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Field: Economics and Public Policy. June 1997.
(Taught by Ben Bernanke, Ken Rogoff, and Angus Deaton among others)

B.A. University of California, Berkeley. Economics and Political Science (highest honors in both majors, distinction in general scholarship). May 1995.
Political Science Honors Thesis: HThe Khmer Rouge Canon 1975-1979: The Standard Total Academic View on CambodiaH (Advisor: A. James Gregor)
Economics Honors Thesis: HCambodia's Economic Development and History: A Contribution to the Study of the Cambodian EconomyHH (Advisors: Martha Olney and Alain de Janvry)

Center for Khmer Studies, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia
CKS Fellow, 2004-2005.
Royal Academy of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Blakemore-Freeman Fellow, 2003-2004.
Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Research Fellow, Summer 1996.


* Post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction
* Development administration and public policy
* Comparative politics and political economy of Southeast Asia
* Research methods

TED Conferences

TEDActive 2014, TEDActive 2011, TEDActive 2010, TED2009

Areas of Expertise

Political Science, Public Policy, Political Analyst, Southeast Asia, post-conflict reconstruction, Political Economy of Development, Comparative politics, Methodology, Agriculture and resource economics, East Asia and Pacific

An idea worth spreading

That linking labor to trade has worked in Cambodia, in other words, that a little less sweat flowed from Cambodia's sweatshops, and that you can support its success by buying garments that are Made in Cambodia.

I'm passionate about

Cambodia, Southeast Asia, development, post-conflict recon,growth, governance, accountability, justice, rule of law, Avian Influenza & global response to it, emerging infectious diseases surveillance,

Talk to me about

Cambodia, Southeast Asia, development, post-conflict recon,growth, governance, accountability, justice, rule of law, Avian Influenza & global response to it, emerging infectious diseases surveillance

People don't know I'm good at

Karaoke singing

My TED story

I learned about TED last year, on a plane back to Monterey where I live. Bud Enright was riding next to me. The next thing I know, we become friends, and he tells me about this conference he's attending with all these amazing people speaking. I can't believe it. I'm now part of TED too.

Favorite talks

Comments & conversations

Sophal Ear
Posted about 5 years ago
Sophal Ear: Escaping the Khmer Rouge
It is my solemn duty to inform you that on 5 October 2009, my 73 year-old mother, Mrs. Cam Youk Lim, passed away two days after what appeared to have been successful quadruple heart bypass surgery. When we went together to TED2009 Long Beach in February, I had a feeling in the back of my mind that this might be the last time she would travel by plane (albeit on a relatively short flight from the San Francisco Bay Area). I was glad that on 17 April 2005, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge, she authored a Lives piece in the New York Times Magazine (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/17/magazine/17LIVES.html?ex=1271390400&en=17626bde97468e35&ei=5088) for which I played scribe and translator to her. My mother was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 1936 and lived to save six lives during the Killing Fields, with 14 grand children since then, the count is now up to 20 lives. Mother, I miss you so much and I love you. May you rest in peace always.
Sophal Ear
Posted over 5 years ago
Sophal Ear: Escaping the Khmer Rouge
Absolutely I was using irony (to poor effect because I remember reading a similar comment on the YouTube version of this TEDTalk). I do not literally believe that money in and of itself is evil! The Khmer Rouge believed this, and even banning money does not get rid of evil (as the Khmer Rouge experience showed). In fact, what I had thought of doing was to quote Mark Twain who said "The lack of money is the root of all evil." But when you're on stage and the clock is ticking down from six minutes, things are going to be left out. By the way, I have an Op-Ed entitled "Cambodian 'Justice'" in the Wall Street Journal (Asia Edition) that came out on 1 September 2009: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203946904574301583107436174.html