Exploring Social Innovation


Program Dates: August 4-14, 2024 | February 5-15, 2025
Open to: Students & starting professionals from Asia & the US (must be 18 or older)
Location: Silicon Valley, with visits to San Francisco & Stanford University
Application Deadline: Summer Deadlines* - Round 1: March 3 | Round 2: April 28 | Round 3: May 19

*Spring 2025 program applicants are also welcome to apply during the summer 2024 application cycle; Spring 2025 program deadlines will be announced in fall 2024.

The Exploring Social Innovation (ESI) program brings together a diverse cohort of 12-20 students and young professionals from across Asia and the US in Silicon Valley for an intensive 10-day exploration of social challenges and innovative solutions. You will discover new possibilities for your future, learn innovative ways to make the world a better place, and meet a diverse and passionate group of changemakers from across Asia. You will experience interactive workshops, group discussions, site visits and guest speakers from innovative companies, and exchange ideas with local leaders and global friends.

Kyushu University Students: This is approved for credit for international courses in the School of Education (Overseas Coursework I・II)

Rikkyo University Students: This is a designated partner program for Rikkyo University’s Global Leadership Program course GL301: Practical Training as a Leader (リーダーシップ海外体験科目)

Information Sessions

Join one of our information sessions to meet the Program Director, learn more about the program, hear first-hand experiences from alumni, and have an opportunity to ask questions. These sessions are open to anyone, including working professionals, university students, faculty, and administrators, who is interested in learning more about VIA and our social innovation programs.

Program Application

Continue reading below to learn more about the program, or click the blue APPLY button if you’re ready to start your application. After clicking the APPLY button, you will be taken to the application portal to create a user account. This will allow you to save your progress and return to continue your application at any time.


Deepen your learning with topic exploration teams: Participants will be placed in groups of 3-5 based on shared interests in a specific topic. Led by a Social Innovation Education Fellow, each group will meet regularly to reflect and discuss what was learned in relation to the group’s topic and work on a small project. On the last day of the program, each group will deliver a short presentation based on their topic with the whole cohort.

In-Person Program Costs (estimated)

$3,300 USD program participation fee includes:

  • Accommodation
  • Transportation for program activities
  • Most scheduled activities
  • Breakfasts
  • Arrival lunch & graduation dinner
Additional estimated costs not included in the program fee:

  • International airfare (approx. $1,800 USD)
  • Travel insurance (approx. $25 USD)
  • Most lunches and dinners (approx. $300 USD)
  • Optional activities (approx. $200 USD)
  • Personal shopping expenses ($100+ USD)

$3,300 USD – Program Fee (Aug 2024)
$2,425+ USD – Additional costs (estimated)
$5,725+ USD – Total Cost to Participate (estimated)

Personal Health Expenses

Participants will be responsible for any medical testing, care, or additional travel costs associated with infection and treatment, including, but not limited to, the cost of modifying, extending, or cancelling any lodging or transportation arrangements before, during, or after the program.

Program Participation Fee Payment & Cancellation Policies

Invoice & Payment Deadline

If accepted to the program, you will receive an invoice from VIA’s finance department with instructions to complete the payment within approximately one week of confirming your participation. Full payment is due 30 days from the invoice issue date. If your invoice is issued 30 days or less before the program start date, full payment is due when you receive the invoice.

Participant Cancellation

VIA will return 50% of the program fee if your cancellation is confirmed at least 30 days before the program start date. If you cancel less than 30 days before the program, we are unable to refund your program fee. Partial refunds will be considered in extenuating circumstances.

Program Modification or Cancellation

VIA may convert the program to a virtual format at any time prior to the program start dates if travel and in-person activities are not possible due to natural disasters, including pandemics. If the program is converted to a virtual format, VIA will return the amount of the in-person program fee paid that exceeds the virtual program fee of $900. The exact amount returned will reflect any program fee reductions to the participant’s fee (if applicable).

If you choose to not participate in the virtual program, the participant cancellation policy will apply to the virtual program fee amount. If the program is cancelled entirely and a virtual participation option is not offered, you will receive a full refund.

“In ESI program, you’ll be able to get an idea about how to learn the skills such as design thinking, self-reflection, and self-expression, which is a rare thing in our daily lives. Go for it, I’m totally sure that you’ll gain something valuable for the rest of your life!” – ESI Spring 2023 participant from Japan

“ESI program can not only unleash your potential and passion to serve the community by the mean of social entrepreneurship but also improve your personal development by giving you a chance to learn design thinking and storytelling.” – ESI Spring 2023 participant from Myanmar

“VIA becomes another family for me after joining an ESI program. Through VIA, I gained not only the design thinking techniques for social innovations but also connections and networks through the people I have met and worked together during the program. I also got a chance to reflect on myself back and find my true self which is unbelievable and helped me a lot. VIA taught me to be “an authentic me for others” through working and so if you are a person who would love helping others, diversity, self-exploration, listening to inspiring stories, and meeting with different people, the ESI program is the one you should join to build a better version of you.” – ESI Spring 2023 participant from Myanmar

“VIA Programs welcomes everyone, in my perspective. Whether right now you’re hesitant to join or not, I would recommend you to JUST GO FOR IT! Even though you’re not studying in design thinking or have less awareness of Social Innovation, the program instructors, fellows, facilitators, and guest speakers are sincerely open and listen to you as human beings, so just open your heart and clear spaces to gain these values from joining ESI.” – Virtual ESI Spring 2021 participant from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand

“I strongly recommend you join this VIA program. VIA has given me the confidence to challenge myself every day, while VIA also has given me a safe space to be true to who I am. The virtual program allowed me to learn about skills we need for social innovation by learning about frameworks and working in groups. I hope you join the positive community that VIA offers :)”  – Virtual ESI 2021 Spring Participant from Rikkyo University in Japan

「特に日本の学生さんに参加してほしいプログラムです。Design Thinking についてこれ ほど丁寧に教わり、それをすぐに実践できるような教育はとても貴重であると思います。なかなか大学内では学べない、又はやらないでしょう。これからの社会を作る一員として求められるであろうスキルを得られるので、参加をお勧めします。」- Virtual ESI Spring 2021 participant from Meiji University in Japan

“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 provides a 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!!」

To get even more perspectives on ESI from past programs, check out our YouTube playlist of videos that 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!

Application Timeline

There are multiple application deadlines for university students and professionals from all regions. Some universities also have a separate timeline, which will be listed below. The different application deadlines are intended to accommodate differences in everyone’s schedules and allow our staff time to review applications.

Who should apply by the Round 1 Deadline?

  • Macau University of Science & Technology (MUST) students
  • Applicants who will require a visitor visa (B-1/B-2) to enter the US are HIGHLY ENCOURAGED to apply by this deadline.
Application Process
Round 1
(US Time)
Round 2
(US Time)
Round 3
(US Time)

Application Deadline March 3 April 28 May 19

Interviews March 6-12 May 1-8 May 22-29

Results March 13 May 9 May 30

Participation Confirmation March 20 May 17 June 7

Spring 2025 Program Applications

Applicants interested in the spring OR summer program can apply during the summer application cycle. You will have the option to select which program(s) you are interested in at the beginning of the application. Deadlines for the spring 2025 program application cycle will be announced in fall 2024.

Sample Program Schedule

Although the schedule has not been finalized, we expect to have visits and/or guest speakers from many of the same organizations from past years, including YouTube, Google, Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (d.school), Children’s Fairyland, Glide Memorial, Delancey Street Foundation, BAYCAT, The Primary School, and others.

Pre-Program Orientation
The orientation session will take place a few weeks before the program, to provide an overview of the course and introduction to the online platform (it will also be recorded).
Day 1: Arrival & Orientation
  • Arrival at San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Welcome Lunch
  • Hotel Check-in
  • Program Orientation & Neighborhood Exploration
  • Dinner
  • Icebreaker Game Night
Day 2: Change Starts with Empathy
  • Breakfast
  • Workshop: Change Starts with Empathy
  • Mini-Tour & Lunch
  • Introduction to Social Innovation & Systemic Change
  • Workshop: Storytelling for Social Innovation
  • Dinner
  • Reflection Session
Day 3: Design-Thinking Mindsets
  • Breakfast
  • WeWork Tour
  • Workshop: Introduction to Design-Thinking
  • Lunch
  • Storytelling & V-Talk Overview
  • Workshop: Failure & Luck
  • Dinner
  • Un-Conference
Day 4: Stanford & Silicon Valley
  • Breakfast
  • Site Visit: YouTube
  • Lunch & Free Time at Stanford
  • Stanford Scavenger Hunt
  • Reflection
  • Dinner
  • D.school Tour
Day 5: A Deeper Look at Social Innovation
  • Volunteer @ Glide Memorial
  • Glide Sunday Celebration
  • Lunch
  • Tools for Social Innovation
  • Proaction Cafe
  • Dinner
  • Debrief & Reflection
Day 6: Free Day
Day 7: New Perspectives – The Power of Story
  • Breakfast
  • Volunteer at Fairyland: Experiencing a New Point of View
  • Team Lunch + New Perspective Activity
  • Site Visit: Capital One Cafe
  • New Perspectives Activity Debrief
  • Dinner + V-Talk Prep
  • V-Talks
Day 8: Social Innovation Mindsets in Action
  • Breakfast
  • Site Visit: Delancey Street Foundation
  • Lunch at Delancey Street Restaurant
  • The Power of Community: The Primary School
  • Reflection + Team Project Prep
  • Free Night
Day 9: Diving In – Team Projects
  • Breakfast
  • Social Innovation Project Ideation
  • Lunch
  • Social Innovation Project Prototyping & Presentation Prep
  • Dinner
  • Social Innovation Project Presentations
Day 10: Looking Back & Looking Forward
  • Free Morning
  • Visioning Your Next Steps
  • Evaluation & Reflection
  • Celebration Dinner
  • Graduation Ceremony

Minimum Participation Requirements

In order to be eligible to participate in this program, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age at the beginning of the program.
  • Be eligible to receive travel authorization to enter and remain in the United States for the duration of the program.
  • Be able to provide proof of vaccination and/or health status required for entry to the US or re-entry to your home country that is in effect during your dates of travel. It is your responsibility to confirm which health-related regulations may apply to you.
  • Be willing to undergo diagnostic tests if experiencing symptoms of a communicable illness considered serious by public health officials or if required for site visits by the host institution. A positive test or inability to meet requirements for a site visit may limit your ability to participate in program activities and/or may necessitate self-isolation during the program.
  • Disclose any life-threatening or significant allergies, dietary restrictions, medical conditions or illnesses, and physical limitations as they relate to the program and listed activities.
  • Obtain overseas travel medical insurance and provide proof of insurance coverage to VIA prior to arriving in the United States.
  • Be committed to attending all activities, both before and during the program, and participating fully.

Application Details

To see if this program is a good match, we want to get to know you, your interests, experiences, and motivation for joining the program. The application includes 3 sections, to be completed in English:

  1. Personal & Contact Information – Share some basic information about yourself and your preferred contact details
  2. Academic & Professional Information – Share about your academic and professional experience
  3. 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.
  4. Discovery Interview: The final step will be a 30-45 minute Zoom interview with the Program Director to clarify program goals and expectations. If your application passes the initial screening, you will receive an invitation to sign up for an interview time after the application deadline.