The 2012 Mashable Social Good Summit was held this past weekend. Hundred of celebrities, ambassadors and community members gathered at New York City’s 92 Street Y to discuss how technology can be leveraged to execute socially conscious projects worldwide. Panel topics included, among others, “Can Mobile Phones Eliminate Pediatric Aids?,” “Project Diaspora: Africa’s Technology Renaissance,” and “Disappearing Degrees of Separation: Creating Community Connections.”

“Disappearing Degrees of Separation” featured Sophie Blackall, a New-York based Australian-born artist, as a panelist. New Yorkers most likely recognize her Metropolitian Transit Authority (MTA) Arts for Transit illustrations  inspired by  everyday locals. However, she has been traveling the world and using her creative talent to advocate for the Measles & Rubella Initiative. The organization works to fight the spread of measles, specifically among vulnerable populations in developing countries.

Untapped Cities spoke to Blackall at the conference about her involvement in the Measles & Rubella Initiative, and, what inspires her illustrations of New Yorkers.

Untapped Cities: What have been your accomplishments with the Measles & Rubella Initiative?
Sophie Blackall: I was in [Washington] D.C. this weekend to launch the Measles Project, which is a series of posters designed to tell the story of measles and how this disease is still killing 380 children a day. We are hoping to join forces to eliminate measles by 2020. The posters tell the story of a child who become ill in a village, in my particular case, it was in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I visited communities that have been affect by measles outbreaks. They have a practice of not naming their children until the measles has passed. So, this project is called “Let Every Child Have a Name,” in the hope that this will be a real possibility that families will not have to live with the threat of measles for too much longer. It costs a dollar to vaccinate a child. It is really feasible. If we can collect and get that funding on the ground, it is part of a long chain. It takes a lot of people to do each step of that journey. I was really interested in how the vaccine arrives in the country, how it then it is taken in a truck to houses, then, how it goes on the back of motorbikes or canoes to get to remote villagers.

Untapped Cities: What inspired you to join the project?
Sophie Blackall: Christine McMann saw a film made by Etsy about the making of a poster I did for the MTA Arts for Transit project. Again, the extraordinary power of the internet. Christine lives in Bangkok and she saw the film online. Then, she sent it to her colleague who lives in Zimbabwe and said, “What do you think? Could Sophie do something like that for us?” She sent me an e-mail. I was in Cincinnati in a plane, on a runway, in a snowstorm. And I opened the e-mail on my phone and it was inviting me to go to the Congo. I said, “Yes!” I have long wanted to do something that combines drawing with children, travel and helping people. It is an extraordinary and amazing thing to do through drawing.

Untapped Cities: Speaking of the MTA Arts for Transit project, what inspires your drawings of New Yorkers?
Sophie Blackall: Riding the train, like every New Yorker. I am Australian and I have lived in the City for thirteen years. And, I never get tired of watching the tiny interactions between strangers. I always bring a book and I rarely read it because it is just so fascinating to see. I often see something really moving happen between strangers. Like, someone falling asleep on someone’s shoulder and the person doesn’t shove them off. The person just thinks,” Well, I am getting off in a couple of stops anyway. It is not hurting me.” Once, there was a woman who had a coughing fit and there was a man seated five seats down and passed a handkerchief up to her. Things like that are really lovely and reminders that we are human. We are not all that strange.

Learn more about Blackall’s advocacy efforts in the video below produced by the Measles & Rubella Initiative.


You can read more about Sophie Blackall’s art and advocacy work on her website.

Follow the author at @untappedalley.