Exploring Social Innovation


Program Dates: Spring: February 8-18, 2023 | Summer: August 6-16, 2023
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: Round 2 / Kyoto / Kyushu Sangyo: Dec. 4 | Round 3: Dec 18

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)

Information Session Recording

Click the blue APPLY button below to start your application (you can save your progress), or scroll down to learn more about ESI!


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)

$2,900 USD* program participation fee included:

  • Accommodation
  • Transportation for program activities
  • Most scheduled activities
  • Breakfasts
  • Arrival lunch & graduation dinner

*Please note that the program fee is an estimate; it will be finalized by the end of October.

Additional costs not included in the program fee:

  • International airfare (approx. $2,000 USD)
  • Travel insurance (approx. $25 USD)
  • Most lunches and dinners (approx. $300 USD)
  • Optional activities (approx. $200 USD)
  • Personal shopping expenses ($100+ USD)

COVID-Related Expenses

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 Fee Reduction Funding

Enlight Fellowship:
Successful applicants for this fellowship will receive a $300-1500 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.

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 pandemic conditions make travel and in-person activities infeasible. If the program is converted to a virtual format, VIA will return up to $2,000 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 applied to the participant’s fee.

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.

“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. Scholarship applicants are encouraged to apply as early as possible. For non-scholarship applicants, it’s ok to apply during any round. However, it’s always a good idea to try and get your application in early.

Application Process
Round 1
(US Time)
Round 2 /
Kyoto Univ / Kyushu Sangyo Univ
(US Time)
Round 3
(US Time)

Application Deadline Nov 6 Dec 4 Dec 18

Interviews Nov 7-11 Dec 5-9 Dec 19-23

Results Nov 11 Dec 9 Dec 23

Participation Confirmation Nov 18 Dec 16 Dec 30

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 fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at the time of departure, including boosters (proof of vaccination and recent negative COVID test result may be required for entry to Japan or re-entry to the US).
  • Must 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.
  • Must obtain overseas travel medical insurance and provide proof of insurance to VIA prior to arriving in the United States.
  • Be committed to attending and participating in all activities, both before and during the program, and participating fully.

Application Details

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 Zoom interview with the Program Director. If your application passes the initial screening, you will receive an invitation to sign up for an interview time after the application deadline.