Prosperity and Self-Reliance Zealot Steve Alder

From North America to Ghana, Africa, Steve Alder, President of Ensign Global College (, sits down to discuss how a professor helps to build global prosperity and self-reliance on Alan Olsen‘s American Dreams Show.


Alan Olsen

Welcome to American Dreams I’m visiting here today with Steve Alder. Steve, welcome to today’s program.


Steve Alder

Thank you, Alan, great to be here. Thank you for the invitation to be on your show.


Alan Olsen

I’m super excited to have you here. And I want to, I want to first for the listeners outline you had a very unique background and journey in life, your pathway, how you got to where you are today, maybe you can tell us a little bit about some of the things that have been in your, your path of life.


Steve Alder

Thank you. It is it is a unique journey. And I think I’ve ended up in a pretty unique space. I started I started with a fairly traditional academic career. And that took place predominantly at the University of Utah where I had a faculty appointment in the School of Medicine.

I did things from biomedical research to heading the public health activities in the School of Medicine and running programs there. As part of that, I was engaged in international and global health and enjoyed that very much, but was frustrated that much of the work that we did, if we had a grant or we had some sort of support through philanthropic means.

As soon as the money ran out, the program often ceased and all the work that went into that was lost. So along the way I was I was introduced to Bob and Lynette gay, and they’ve become dear friends colleagues. And I’ve had the honor actually of working with them for now about a dozen years.

But I was engaged with them in this concept they had driven by Lynette to create capacity building in the health space in the West African country of Ghana. And her idea with the support of Bach was to put a public health, higher education institution in place.

So early on, I I was involved in just helping with the concept and the setup of the structure. And over time, I became more and more involved. And at one point, we were in need of a leadership transition. And I stepped in as the interim president of the college. And that interim president role turned into a substantive president.

And now I’m in my eighth year in that role. I’ve likewise kept ties with the University of Utah, and again, in partnership with not only the university but with Bob and Lynette, we’ve launched a center there called the Center for Business, health and prosperity.

And between these two academic organizations, our goal is to figure out how we promote prosperity, wherever it’s needed worldwide, and what that even means to have a prosperous life.

So I have this great opportunity at this point in my career to work in the prosperity space, both from a how do we develop ideas and approaches the work to? How do we get involved on the ground in helping people to find their pathway to prosperity?


Alan Olsen

When you when we think about the concept of prosperity, how has this concept evolved?


Steve Alder

Over time, as part of my journey, I had done my doctoral work at the University of Utah. And as we started to move into this prosperity space, my academic work, transitioned from a medical environment to business. And so I was able to attend the University of Oxford were late in my career.

I did an MBA there. And as part of that, I became quite interested in some of the history of what Oxford brings to bear on things. And one of the things they’ve done well is if you look at the Oxford English Dictionary, it gives the history of words and prosperity is a word that’s been around in some form.

Now for about 800 years, and the term has evolved. It’s, it’s started around the idea of amassing resources, amassing wealth, and how could we bring wealth and use that wealth for our benefit, that that in recent years has started to fade and this idea that prosperity is living well, and living well has multiple dimensions to it.

And so when we think about somebody having prosperity, it’s that they are living a life that they have chosen, that they are satisfied because they are achieving the things that are important. Not only to them, the people around them and to different priorities, they feel that the world around them needs.

This becomes a really interesting, interesting concept as well as, as we think about the prosperity space, it becomes a very interesting way to approach wellbeing in the world, and how do we make the world a better place?


Alan Olsen

You know, it’s interesting that in the space that you’re working that there’s been some involvement you’re in, in your world of combining the Western education, I guess, there’s been a self reliance center put in the University of Utah? And is that that’s collaborating with your center over in Africa are there?

How does synergy come? You got two different cultures, environments? How do you find synergistic relationships between the two countries and in education systems?


Steve Alder

That’s a great question that I’m often asked. It’s like, how do you how do you reconcile this work in in West Africa, this work in the in the US, and during my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work around the world in in virtually every continent, Antarctica, I’ve not I’ve not had the chance to work there yet.

And suspect I won’t, but otherwise, we’ve looked at the idea of prosperity, we’ve looked at the idea of living. Well, it turns out that there are some interesting concepts, some interesting ideas, some interesting principles that transcend these geographic locations.

So for instance, is we take Ghana, which is a country that is truly at we talk about developing world, but sometimes those developing world countries are really stagnated and, and living an existence that that’s well below where they’d like to be.

But Ghana is truly an example of a developing nation, they’re moving through the ranks of their socio economic standing, going from low income to recently achieving low middle income. And as we look at some of the challenges Ghana faces, it turns out that while they those challenges may look different in the United States.

A lot of the core elements are the same when you when you start to drill behind the scenes.

And so our ability to work in these separate environments, and to go deep in Ghana, as well as deep in the United States, we often find that solutions and opportunities in each location, those opportunities, those solutions are informed by what we’re experiencing in the other location.

As an example, we look at health care challenges in the United States, what are the challenges we face, too expensive, hard to access, the outcomes are not necessarily what we’d like when we’re sick, we have to get ourselves up, we have to go somewhere else, when we’re at our worst to try and get care.

Those are not so different than the ideas and issues that are occurring in Ghana, in Ghana. I live in a very rural community; I can’t get to care because it costs so much. And so I’m if I’m going to get care. It’s a big undertaking, as an example, the resources there, they’re hard to access so it becomes expensive.

So as we think about the solutions, solutions actually have some similar tenants as we as we look across the United States and Ghana. So it’s become a very rich place for us not only to think about and to develop knowledge in these areas, but to also get hands on with solutions and have.

I mean, the surprising thing for many people is have us solutions that are informed by Ghana, we often think it goes the other way. Well, we’re going to take what we do in the US, we’re going to do it in Ghana, and that’s going to help them get to be more like where we are. If I if I can’t I’ll give you a quick example.

Our health care system in the United States is pretty tough to navigate at times, especially with complicated illnesses. And having somebody who you can relate to that helps you through that system becomes a game a game changer.

And we did work here in the in the Salt Lake metropolitan area, where we worked with a team that developed health navigation for communities that were disconnected from the health system now was shown to be remarkably beneficial.

Now, where did we learn that we learned that in God We learned that from approaches we took to addressing how to get community members who were not familiar with these systems through these systems. And it’s this type of synergy. And now this I gave one narrow example.

There are many, many examples and themes that we’re working on, that go back and forth between these two locations. Yep, through that then also ripple out to other areas of the world.


Alan Olsen

Now, we’ve recently seen in our world, the advancement of AI, and how does that does that? is there parity between AI in this country versus the other the African countries I, I know technology may be at different levels. But as the it advances it, the world gets smaller. And I don’t know how they respond to the advancements of technology there.


Steve Alder

When I first started working on the African continent, it was it was about 25 years ago, I recall, when I called home, I would have to hike into the nearest. I don’t think you could call it a city, it was too small to be a city.

And I’d have to find somebody who would lease out or rent out phone time and make these complicated calls, never quite sure how much it was going to cost never quite sure if I was going to connect. Now, virtually everybody across the continent has a smartphone. And we’re seeing these developments in in technology uptake.

But also these leapfrogs were people who let’s say didn’t have a telephone, because of the cell network that was put in with groups like Celtel, you could you could leapfrog landlines, and now everybody just went to smartphones, and the system continues to strengthen it.

And so in my in my hand, in Africa, I have terrific technology available and the uptake has been great, especially among newer generations of, of adults. So having having opportunities with these developments like AI, it becomes a great equalizer in the world.

It it allows things to happen in places like Ghana, or other African countries, or you can think of other areas around the world that have similarly been behind in some of these areas now becoming part of the global community. And that’s what I think AI does. We hear a lot of the concerns about AI.

But it’s such a remarkable opportunity and so many things that become affordable, accessible and impactful through good application of AI.


Alan Olsen

What are the critical opportunities that enable people to improve their current conditions?


Steve Alder

The one thing that we have everywhere in the world and I believe it’s our best resource is people’s capacity to do things. So much of the past development work and honestly too much of the current development work that we’re attempting is based on giving people stuff or doing things for people.

That really undermines people’s capacity to care for themselves and to create their abilities and have an impact that they can then work with others and help lift others as well. So I believe the greatest opportunities that are there are to take the capacity of the remarkable abilities across humanity and get them activated.

We’ve had wonderful partners around the world, I’ll again, because of my recent and deep work in Ghana, I’ll talk about our Ghanaian partners. We’re working with some of the best and brightest minds in the world in Ghana, who have insights and expertise that the world truly needs to know about and needs to benefit from.

So not only are they lending their abilities to the country of God, but Ghana is now taking on the responsibility of contributing to wellbeing in the world. So we there’s something that’s known as a dependency cycle that often starts when somebody is either given something or some something is done for them.

And the thinking goes a little bit like this. If I’m given something, and I’ll tell you there’s a caveat to this. I’ll come back around to be fine given something in the short term that may seem terrific. But when you mentioned this idea of self-reliance, if we think about self-reliance So this is counter to self-reliance.

So it may solve my immediate needs. But it’s also given me this idea that I need somebody else to solve my problems for me. So rather than somebody working with me to solve my problems and to create opportunities and to develop.

I now have gotten this subtle message, that that’s really not my pathway that somebody else is going to help me and I need to look for somebody else to, to take care of my needs.

So if we can transition this thinking if we can find ways to connect, and there are some beautiful ways to do this, and we’re doing that, here in the United States, we’re doing it in Ghana, where if if, if you could just sit down with some of the folks we’re working with, and hear the stories about how their perspective of what was possible was so limited.

But as they were given a hand up, not a handout, they started to find that there was a world that opened up to them, and they not only could start to transition their own situation, they could do this for their family, for their community for others.

And it creates what I like to think of as a prosperity movement, that people get engaged in this concept and idea and they see it start to work in their lives. And all of a sudden, it starts to build the synergy start to happen. And we start to see things change in a positive and dramatic way.

Recognizing that at the beginning, it can be very slow and seem like it’s, it’s I hate to use the term but hopeless is often what people feel when they go into environments where they see stagnation. The caveat is now in times of crisis. Absolutely. That’s a time for handout. That’s a time for helping.

But as soon as that crisis is abated, transitioning out of that is critical if we’re wanting to do good for others, and frankly, if we want to be the recipients of that kind of good as well.


Alan Olsen

You know, there’s a, there’s a saying, I guess Jim Collins wrote in his book from good to great, it’s about finding, not how do I do this, but who is needed, right? To enable me so when you’re when you’re building these who’s and enabling people, because you have a culture that has done things a certain way.

And now you’re saying, look, let’s make this self reliant. Let’s change this culture. Are you bringing different people in to teach and part of the solution or what’s this process?


Steve Alder

Yeah, so I’ve been accused, both in Ghana and in the US of, of breaking with tradition in a lot of the work that we do, but it’s just that idea. I think, I think Jim Collins idea of you got to have the right people on the bus, as he says, and having a team that is innovative.

And it is an element of entrepreneurship, it’s taking the resources that are available, and thinking about how we utilize those differently to have greater impact and do greater good. I’ll go back to the wonderful opportunities I’ve had with Bob and Lynette gay.

Lynette a humanitarians, humanitarian her charge to us is always you got to be doing things that help people now, you can’t be doing academic work that sits on a shelf. And someday, maybe someday, we’ll someday maybe turn to something that will eventually do something.

We have to help people now the suffering and need is now Bob’s charge to us. And you’ve got to, you’ve got to find ways of using what we have better and never let that go. We have to continually be evolving in our innovative approaches. And so in so getting people who think this way, not everybody naturally comes to it.

And we’ve worked hard in our teams that span these two wonderful countries, to get people who are willing to engage in innovative thinking, it means sometimes things don’t work, and sometimes we fail.

But when we learn from that failure and turn that into a future better success, that’s where the value comes from being willing to, to launch out there and risk things. So those are the sorts of things we do.

I will tell you, we haven’t had a 100% track record in being able to identify people, we find some people join us and it’s not quite is the right set and, and our goal is then to help them on to find places where they can be productive.

But through a a series of evolutions in this space, we’ve gathered together a remarkable team who the same as they punch above their weight. These small bit capable teams are doing remarkable things and have influence that that goes well beyond what you might anticipate a group of that size has.


Alan Olsen

Or they are the groups on site in the country? Or do they use technology to do zoom calls? Or wait, what is the all of the above?


Steve Alder

We can’t we love the idea that from a, an attempt by the world to respond to a pandemic, all of a sudden, new, new ideas, technology, that it’s not new technology, per se, but it’s technology that we felt no, you can’t, you can’t have a Zoom meeting when you when an in person meeting is possible, you really need to have the in person meeting.

Now zoom type meetings don’t or other telecommunications don’t necessarily replace in person. But boy, they have opened up the opportunity for us to work globally in ways that we just didn’t have, say in 2019. It’s been a remarkable transition.

And I think one of the true benefits from the struggles we faced as a world in approaching the COVID 19 pandemic. So


Alan Olsen

Steve, how does a person get involved? They they’re like, I want to help you in this cause it’s, it’s, it’s very noble, and this principle, self reliance, I’m a believer, you know, is there a way that they can help? Yeah, and that’s a great question.


Steve Alder

I’ve always been a big believer in we are, our train isn’t. For passengers, we want people who are going to get stepped down. And so whenever we’ve had people engage with us, we’ve asked them not to necessarily believe what we say, although we hope we’re honorable in what we say.

But we want them to come get involved, we want them to get hands on to be on the ground. And as we develop activities around the world. So somebody can come to Salt Lake City, Utah, and see what we’re doing. They can come to the country of Ghana see what we’re doing.

But we want them to get engaged, we want them to hear from the people that we’re working with, to see what they have to say that we don’t want them to take our word, but we want them to, to be drawn to this calling of this type of work. And if I can say one additional one additional thing about that.

What I found is often when people get into work like this, they make they may categorize it under philanthropic endeavors. We find that sometimes the principles that they’ve used in other parts of their life, we have, for instance, very successful people in the business space.

When they turn to philanthropy, they sort of say, well, those road rules don’t apply, and they sort of abandon those. And we see a lot of philanthropic undertaking, this just don’t go well. And what we’ve attempted to do is we’ve attempted to say no, let’s run our philanthropic undertakings as we would any business endeavor.

Our goal, at at the least, is to be a value creating, undertaking that what we bring to the table is amplified in the creation of value. At best, can we create new markets of activity, if we follow the lay Clayton Christensen’s approach?

Can we create innovations in this space that are market creating, and therefore we are creating a ripple effect outward, that goes well beyond what we’re directly doing? Inside global college, for instance, our institution in Ghana has been that type of an undertaking.

The innovation was how do you instead of transporting these great minds out of Ghana around the world, and recognizing that they get engaged in what they’re doing when they go somewhere else? And not coming back? How do we bring this standard of education to Ghana?

And in doing so this innovation has led to all sorts of additional enterprises both in our local environment, but then beyond that, and this thinking of, well, how does this then start to transform the higher education space?

And as that higher education space transforms, how does this start to hit other market sectors and other industries and other activities and so on? I believe that if we do this well, our efforts become greater than we could even anticipate as the concepts and ideas that are made real, then become replicated and start to spread.


Alan Olsen

Thank you is there a website for more information a person can go visit?


Steve Alder

We would love you to come to our website. If you go to That’s our Ensign Global College website. My contact information is there. If people are interested, I would invite them to reach out. We have visitors come regularly.

And they often leave a part of their heart with this as they stay part of we call our Ensign Global College family, our Ensonians they become an Ensonians and we invite everybody who finds this at all interesting to come and join us in this and Ensonian endeavor.


Alan Olsen

Steve, thank you for being with us today.


Steve Alder

Alan, thank you so much for having me.


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Transcript generated by software and may contain errors.

    Steve Alder on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Steve Alder

    Stephen Alder, PhD, MBA is the President of Ensign Global College in the West African country of Ghana and Executive Director of the University of Utah Center for Business, Health, and Prosperity. He earned his PhD in Health Promotion and Education with an emphasis in Community Health from the University of Utah and his Executive MBA in Entrepreneurship and Strategy from the University of Oxford. At the University of Utah he is a Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine, an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at the Davide Eccles School of Business, and Special Advisor on West Africa to the Office for Global Engagement. He has been influential around the world in strengthening public health, improving community approaches for reducing disease and extending life, improving health systems, and most recently, developing pathways for people to become more prosperous. He is currently leading the launch of a unique student experiential program to create a generation of prosperity changemakers called Prosperity U.

    Alan Olsen on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Alan Olsen

    Alan is managing partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP, (GROCO) and is a respected leader in his field. He is also the radio show host to American Dreams. Alan’s CPA firm resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves some of the most influential Venture Capitalist in the world. GROCO’s affluent CPA core competency is advising High Net Worth individual clients in tax and financial strategies. Alan is a current member of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (S.I.E.P.R.) SIEPR’s goal is to improve long-term economic policy. Alan has more than 25 years of experience in public accounting and develops innovative financial strategies for business enterprises. Alan also serves on President Kim Clark’s BYU-Idaho Advancement council. (President Clark lead the Harvard Business School programs for 30 years prior to joining BYU-idaho. As a specialist in income tax, Alan frequently lectures and writes articles about tax issues for professional organizations and community groups. He also teaches accounting as a member of the adjunct faculty at Ohlone College.

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