Exploring Social Innovation

Exploring Social Innovation


Program Dates: August 4-14, 2019
Open to: University students (18 and older) & starting professionals
Location: San Francisco & Silicon Valley, California
Application Deadline: May 20, 2019

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.


Follow our aspiring changemakers from across Asia as they travel through San Francisco visiting innovative social change organizations and learning how to harness their luck and embrace their failures! Thanks to our alum and coordinator Yeji Cheon for creating this clip!


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.



Meet the Summer 2019 Coordinators!

Chalisa Kaewla, Coordinator for Community Engagement

After immersing myself in a totally different culture in Italy for a year as an exchange student, I started believing in the power of learning by doing. I joined School of Global Studies and Social Entrepreneurship (GSSE) at Thammasat University for my undergraduate degree. At GSSE experiential learning (ex. using design thinking as learning approach) is emphasized. To explore my interest in social impact creation, I spent my summer breaks interning at the Stock Exchange of Thailand, Social Development Department, and UNESCO Asia-Pacific, Social Human Science Department. My other interests are taking photos, (experiential) baking and cooking (haha) and of course, trying out exotic food or just eating in general. This summer, I am joining ESI as a coordinator to do my best to contribute to the participant’s learning experience with VIA.

Aye Sandar, Coordinator for Community Engagement

MingalarPar! (Hello) I am Aye Sandar but you can call me Ae. I am from Myanmar and I teach to the students who are about 5 years old. Moreover, I teach teenager and youth English Language plus Social Science. This coming June, many of the alumni from VIA ESI plan to make a workshop based on Exploring Social Innovation in Myanmar. I joined ESI in 2017 and this time I will be helping VIA as a coordinator. The main reason for joining this program is I want to see the challenges in a coordinator role. Moreover, because alumni from Myanmar are planning to give a workshop, I want to improve my skills with ESI, too. This is my first time to be coordinator so I am very excited and I promise I will do my best for participants and for VIA, too.

Sayaka Ueda, Coordinator for Community Engagement

Sayaka Ueda is a 3rd year student at Keio University. She has been studying Social Marketing, where one uses marketing techniques to raise awareness on different social issues. After being a part of the ESI program in spring of 2016, she has been focusing on creating a more sustainable world by start her own student-run organization to share the ideas of the Sustainable Development Goals in Japan as well as running an event, Creative Cooking Battle Youth, to get college students to be more aware of the food waste in their daily lives in a creative way. As the Exploring Social Innovations program was an opportunity for her to gain new perspectives on taking steps to becoming a change maker through the cross-cultural communication and various applications of design thinking, she hopes to now share those value with new ESI participants as a coordinator!

Wenyu Xi (Echo), Coordinator for Community Engagement

Wenyu Xi has served as ESI coordinator in February 2018, and this August will be her fifth ESI journey. Her expectation as a coordinator is to test new program design to support the program development and the team. After achieving her bachelor degree in political science from Fudan University in 2017, Wenyu studied social entrepreneurship for 4 months at Watson University with full scholarship sponsored by Enlight Foundation. This coming fall, Wenyu is pursuing her master degree in Learning, Science and Technology program in University of Pennsylvania. Wenyu believes in human potential to choose differently and make changes. She’s grateful for her experience with VIA ESI in the past two years for giving her the space to learn as a practitioner and innovator, where she piloted the first VIA Design your Life online program and the first localized and customized ESI program for NGO talents in China with the amazing ESI team and alumni.

Jin Yang, Coordinator for Community Engagement

Jin spent last two years working at an education think-tank in China and do the research on educational innovation. She has investigated more than 100 cases of educational innovation in China and talked to the practitioners of these cases. She believes that education is to promote to the growth of life, education relevant to real life, and education is about developing lifelong learner. Jin herself is committed to becoming a lifelong learner. As a participant of last year’s ESI program, she gained a lot from this program. In April this year, as a coordinator, Jin working with VIA team organized the first Chinese version of ESI Program in Chengdu and had the opportunity to lead workshops on “design thinking” and “design your life” . It enables her to have a deeper understanding of design thinking, and hopes to lead more people to apply design thinking in more fields. Jin’s been learning to code and she loves exploring apps and taking photographs and videos.


Program fee includes:

  • Accommodation
  • Transportation for program activities
  • Most scheduled activities
  • Arrival lunch
  • Graduation dinner
    Total: $2900
Costs NOT included in the program fee:

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


Enlight Fellowship:
Successful applicants for this fellowship will receive a $500-1,500 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

Before coming to San Francisco this time, I had a dream to become an English teacher. After this coordinator experience, I wondered why I limited my possibilities—I can do even more! Of course, English is an indispensable communication tool all over the world. I would like to tell the importance of a global language “English” to students. However, proficiency in English is not enough exactly—the most important thing is how we use English for interaction with foreigners. English has huge possibilities towards “Education” such as VIA program, so I don’t have to separate English and other ‘Education”. So, I want to think about “Education” from many aspects like VIA, for example, “Design Thinking” is a great process for students to think about themselves. Now I am able to utilize this method thanks to this coordinator experience, I could have more confidence in being an inspiring and effective educator. Click to read more…  – Kazuya Aoshima – ESI 2015 Participant, ESI 2016 Coordinator

“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!!」

General Application Timeline

  • Application Period
    • February: Applications open
    • March-April: Information sessions in mainland China, Taiwan, and Japan
    • April 21: Round 1 Application Deadline
    • May 20: Round 2 Application Deadline
  • Application Review
    • Late April: Round 1 Interviews
    • Mid-May: Round 2 Interviews
    • May: Successful applicants notified of acceptance

Program Preparations*

  • June – July
    • Participants begin pre-travel checklist
    • Payment, agreement form deadline; start visa application process, if applicable
    • Complete visa or ESTA application to travel to the US
    • 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:
    • Why do you want to participate in a program focusing on social innovation?
    • What do you hope to gain or improve by participating in this program?
    • 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 “Apply” button to get started!