*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.
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）
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.
- March 22 (Fri) @ 5:00 PM US Pacific Time | March 23 (Sat) morning Asia Time – register to join on Zoom
- May 10 (Fri) @ 5:00 PM US Pacific Time | May 11 (Sat) morning Asia Time – register to join on Zoom
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:
*This rate is guaranteed for the February 2024 program. The August 2024 program fee will be finalized in early 2024.
|Additional estimated costs not included in the program fee:
$3,300 USD – Program Fee (Feb 2024)
Participants will be responsible for any medical testing, care, or additional travel costs associated with COVID 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.
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.
|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!
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.
Summer Program Applications
Applicants interested in the spring OR summer program can apply during the spring 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 summer program application cycle will be announced in early 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.
|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
|Day 2: Change Starts with Empathy
|Day 3: Design-Thinking Mindsets
|Day 4: Stanford & Silicon Valley
|Day 5: A Deeper Look at Social Innovation
|Day 6: Free Day
|Day 7: New Perspectives – The Power of Story
|Day 8: Social Innovation Mindsets in Action
|Day 9: Diving In – Team Projects
|Day 10: Looking Back & Looking Forward
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.
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:
- Personal & Contact Information – Share some basic information about yourself and your preferred contact details
- Academic & Professional Information – Share about your academic and professional experience
- 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.
- 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.