Exploring Social Innovation

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Exploring Social Innovation


Program Dates: ESI 1: July 17-27, 2017 || ESI 2: August 16-26, 2017
Open to: University students (18 and older) & starting professionals
Location: San Francisco & Silicon Valley, California
Application Deadline: May 14, 2017

The Exploring Social Innovation (ESI) Program brings together 20-25 university students and young professionals from across Asia. In this 2-week program, discover new possibilities for your future, learn innovative ways to make the world the better place, and meet a diverse and passionate group of changemakers from across Asia. You will experience hands-on workshops, visits to innovative companies and exchange ideas with local leaders and global friends.



Whether you are new to social innovation or want new ideas for taking your idea to the next level, the diverse and supportive community ESI will help you think more deeply about who you want to become and how to connect your future with your skills, passion and an international network.



2017 Spring Program Staff

apiwan-esi-sp2017-coordApiwan Doougphummet
ESI Coordinator

Apiwan is a passionate changemaker from Thailand. A few years ago, Apiwan joined VIA Exploring Social Innovation program which greatly broadened her perspective on creative problem-solving and social innovation. She returned to her home country as research assistant for non-profit organizations and also had the opportunity to facilitate Human Centered Design workshops for social enterprises and university students. This gave her an exposure to different types of social challenges in Thailand and grew her concern to shape to future of her community. Apiwan is currently working in the education sector, with the purpose of leveraging technology and data to address educational inequality in Thailand.


maria-esi-sp2017-coordinatorMaria Matsuda
ESI Coordinator

Maria is a junior at Rikkyo University and her major is American and British literature. She was one of the ESI participants spring 2016. The reason she joined the program was to jump into a new world. Although she was new to the idea of “social innovation” before, she expected this program to offer some resources for changing the field of Japanese education. She is interested in education and art because of her sad experience in her school days. In order to support others like her, she wanted to help students who has suffered from serious situations. Now she is thinking about her project influenced by designing the classroom. Besides she has joined the spring coordinator team because this program was one of the turning points to change her life and she wanted VIA to contribute including appreciation.


ryoma-esi-sp2017-coordinatorRyoma Tanaka
ESI Coordinator

Ryoma has strong passion for personal development since he started teaching soccer for his high school students .He learned coaching methodology through this experience and realized the importance of empathy for others. Then he participated in more diversified community through VIA’s Design-Thinking for Social innovation program in March 2015 and 3-month extension program supported by Keio university. During his free time, he loves playing and watching sports especially soccer, and sharing new idea with friends!


Cicy Zhang, ESI 2017 Spring Social Innovation Education Fellow

Cicy Zhang
ESI Social Innovation Education Fellow

Cicy joined VIA as a participant of 2015 ESI summer program and coordinator of 2016 ESI summer program. Holding a Bachelor Degree of Translation and Interpreting from China, Cicy is currently pursuing her master study in Social Entrepreneurship at Watson University in Colorado. Cicy is passionate about international education and creating opportunities for young students all across China to develop them into the leaders of tomorrow. Leveraging her experiences in student organizations and her international work experience, Cicy founded an educational NGO, YouthPower, where she designs and develops leadership training programs for high school and college students. She has delivered leadership training workshops in more than 20 developing countries including Iran, Vietnam, Morocco and Egypt. She is most passionate about learning how to integrate strategy, leadership and sustainability into real transformation in higher and secondary education. She envisions a revitalization of Chinese, as well as global education, through personalized, innovative, powerful leadership development.


Program fee includes:

  • Accommodation
  • Transportation for program activities
  • Most scheduled activities
  • Arrival lunch
  • Graduation dinner
    Total: $3100 (estimated)
Costs NOT included in the program fee:

  • Airfare
  • Travel insurance
  • Daily meals
  • Optional activities
  • Personal shopping expenses


Keio University:
If you are applying from Keio University, you have an opportunity to receive a 200,000 yen scholarship from Keio as part of their 未来先導基金 to join VIA’s social innovation and leadership programs. When you submit your online application to VIA, please also send a 1-page essay in Japanese describing 1) why you want to join VIA’s program, and 2) what you hope to a accomplish to Professor Ken Ito at itok@sfc.keio.ac.jp.

Enlight Fellowship:
Successful applicants for this fellowship will receive a $1000-2000 award towards the program tuition. In order to apply for the fellowship, you must submit a video essay (instead of typed essays) in your application. To learn more about the Enlight Fellowship requirements, please click here.

Refer a Friend Award:
We’d love to know if you have friends or siblings/relatives who you think would be a great match for the ESI program. If you and someone you recommend is accepted to the program, you will receive a $100 award that will be applied to your program fee.

Note: Awards cannot be combined – successful applicants will receive either a scholarship, a fellowship or an award, but cannot receive more than one.

“In this program, I could deeply understand myself and what kind of person I would like to become. I also learnt that everyone has a chance to change and become a person he wants to be and make a big change in society.” ESI 2016 participant from Japan

“I am very happy and lucky to be a part of this family. There are three things that I would like to share about VIA ESI. First, meeting with the leaders from different social institutions is a unique chance to explore new ideas for my own project. Moreover, lessons about social innovation and design thinking is very useful and effective when we want to address social problems. Finally, meeting people from different countries and different background is a great chance to learn more about the international communities and the world. I feel like being a part of VIA ESI community is a milestone for my life and a stepping stone for my future goal. This is one of the happiest moments in my life.” ESI 2016 participant from Myanmar

“I see ESI as a unique program that provide necessary foundation for young changemakers to take their baby steps and empower those who keep asking questions and try to solve them” Click here to read more about Apiwan’s personal story and ESI journey!




ESI participants have a variety of talents and passions. Yuichi is a winner of 6 national championships for calligraphy in Japan and has developed innovative workshops to harness the power of calligraphy for teambuilding and healing.


スタンフォード大学のd. schoolで出会った「デザイン思考」は、帰国してからの生活でも役立っています。どんなアイデアでも試してみる、失敗の中からクリエイティブなものを生み出す。スタンフォードの学生達の自由なマインドは、型にはまった考え方しかできなかった私にはとても新鮮でワクワクするものでした!国籍も専門も様々な学生達と共に「社会を変える現場」の最先端に触れられるプログラムです。英語が苦手でも大丈夫!ぜひ皆さんもVIAの仲間になって自分の可能性を広げてください!!」

Application Period

  • February-May: Applications open
  • Early March: Information sessions in Taiwan
  • Late March: Information sessions in Hong Kong
  • April: Information sessions in China (Beijing) and Japan
  • May 14: Application deadline

Application Review

  • Mid-late May: Interviews
  • Early June: Successful applicants notified of acceptance

Program Preparations*

  • Early June: Participants begin pre-travel checklist
  • Mid-June: Payment, agreement form deadline; start visa application process, if applicable
  • Late June/early July: Complete visa or ESTA application to travel to the US
  • Mid-July: Submit flight and insurance information

*Preparation activities and deadlines may be added/modified any time before the program

In the application, you can share about yourself [in English] in 3 sections:

  1. Background & Contact Information – Tell us some basic information about yourself and how to reach you.
  2. Deeper Questions – Share your story & show your personality through short essays OR video* by answering the following questions:
    1. Why do you want to participate in a program focusing on social innovation?
    2. What do you hope to gain or improve by participating in this program?
    3. We would like to get to know you better. Please tell us a little about your hobbies or passions, your character, and your plans for the future.
  3. Interview: The final step will be a 10-15 minute Skype/phone interview with the Program Director. In this application, you will be asked to reserve an interview time. If your application is selected, you will receive confirmation of your interview time shortly after the application deadline.

Click the button to get started!