When senior policy economist Maude Toussaint-Comeau isn’t setting research standards or connecting with the people, she’s introducing the world to sweet aromas and beautiful arts on her YouTube channel. The channel provides an intriguing glimpse into her life, with content ranging from her reviews as a fragrance and art connoisseur to her experiences as a Black female PhD economist. Maude’s extensive career in the community development space highlights her true passion: the people at the heart of the communities she researches. “The connections with the people are what drives the research questions,” Maude explains. “Some things you cannot find in the data but can understand only through conversation.”
Let the people speak!
The social scientist in Maude is easy to spot as she describes some of her most fulfilling research in the City of Detroit. Recounting an outreach plan she devised to connect community members to the Federal Reserve, she notes, “I brought people into the room who wouldn’t normally be there.” Diving into the communities she wanted to improve and including residents’ voices in conversations set a precedent for other researchers to follow. The trusting relationships Maude built led members of the communities she researched to contact her personally with their questions. “It got to the point where people would call me and ask, ‘Why is there so much crime in my neighborhood?’” She would pull up the data and walk them through it.
Maude’s childhood in Haiti, a developing country that sees drastic differences in economic outcomes for its most wealthy and most poor residents, feeds her desire to help and to directly connect the people she serves to the information that will help them understand from where these economic differences come. She continues to build trust within the community by pulling into the conversation those who don’t usually have a seat at the table and allowing them to speak for themselves.