Economics is probably not the first thing to come to mind when most people think about social good — but economic researchers like Fanta Traore are working to do just that. Traore is an economist and entrepreneur who recently shared her insights as part of The National Science and Technology Medals foundation’s Science Unscripted series.
“Economics is everywhere, in terms of this concept of power and distribution,” she added. “When we look at how that affects Black and Brown communities — and the lack of power that is within those communities — it is really frustrating.”
Traore has been addressing this disparity since her days as a Howard University undergraduate beginning with launching the Young AfricanA Leadership Initiative (YAALI).
“That was an entity that was created based on looking at data … the rate of black people studying abroad,” she said. “Having gone to Mali just that summer before I started at Howard, I saw the value in being able to go to the [African] continent and really be able to get a sense for the realities on the ground and explore opportunities for service.”
“When we are looking at the data around who has passports, it’s pretty low for the Black community, so that was used to inform the creation of this program, which still exists to this day,” she added.
The data served as the basis for funding proposals that helped establish the YAALI program. According to the organization, through learning, researching, and visiting Africa, students gain an educational and enlightening experience.
“What I think is really cool about [economics is] that you can really color the kinds of work that you do based off of the experiences you have,” she said. “If you’re someone who is interested in Africa and development economics, you are able to bring all those experiences to inform these kinds of questions that you ask.”
When it comes to the world of economics, however, Traore is among very few Black women.
Practically, this also meant Traore did not see herself represented at economic institutions, including the Federal Reserve System — the Fed — where she worked as a senior research assistant.
“For my first couple of months when I entered the Fed, I was unlike who I am. You couldn’t recognize me in that I was slicking my hair back and for a hot second trying to blend in — which doesn’t make sense to do at all. For a couple of weeks, I was in this phase of ‘do I belong here’ and really doubting myself,” she said.
There she met Quentin Johnson, who at the time was working as the senior economics outreach specialist at the Fed.
“We had a conversation, and as we were talking, he started a few affirmations and those affirmations I started to say to myself literally every day. They were: ‘I am capable. I am competent. I can do it. I am confident to conquer.’ It was like poetry. These were what he termed in that moment the Five C’s,” Traore said.