Exploring Social Innovation

Exploring Social Innovation


Program Dates: Spring: February 7-17, 2018 || Summer: July 16-26, 2018 & August 15-25, 2018
Open to: University students (18 and older) & starting professionals
Location: San Francisco & Silicon Valley, California
Application Deadline: Round 1: April 21 | Round 2: May 13 (check Timeline section below for specific university deadlines)

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.



2018 Spring Program Coordinators


Meihan (Lucy) Lin

Lucy is a past-participant of ESI spring program in 2016. Now she is running a startup in Bangalore, India, meanwhile, she also tries to fill the gap between Indian startups and Chinese Venture capital and Strategic partners. In the past 3 years, she has joined and led several times as volunteer teaching and summer camps in less developed areas. she wishes to brighten up children’s lives through education. And her dream is to open a charity foundation to help, encourage and support younger generation through the social innovation to help the lovely world become a better place.

Mami Shimokawa

Mami is studying economics at Keio University in Japan, but currently, she has started her year as an exchange student at UC Berkeley from August! She is passionate about studying not only economics, but also about entrepreneurship and social innovations. Studying abroad has been her dream for a long time, and she had wanted to come back and study at UCB ever since she visited UC Berkeley during ESI 2016! During the program, she was inspired a lot by people whom she met, especially by the coordinators, and she feels that the inspirations she got from ESI have changed her life. Therefore, she is willing to give back to VIA community, and this time, as a coordinator, she is going to devote all of her experiences and knowledge to make ESI Spring 2018 so awesome that all the participants can get meaningful takeaways for their future from the program.

Yufan (Amy) Wei

Yufan, who also goes by Amy, is a senior student majoring in Journalism and Comprehensive Communication. She is very fascinated with storytelling and non-fiction writing. Traveling and sleeping are her favorite activities, so far she has been to Japan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Romania and France (sometimes as a volunteer). She would love to share her stories with everyone one day. Her ESI experience last February helped her clarify her life goals, so she wants to pass this kind of spirit and leadership on to the next generation.

Echo Xi

Echo just graduated from Fudan University in Shanghai, and is now a semester scholar in Watson University based in Boulder, Colorado. She is passionate about education innovation and creating spaces for the young generation to realize their full potential through entrepreneurship. Echo has been to 15 countries on 5 continents for culture exchange and academic research and is still exploring more. She volunteered in Morocco as an English teacher 2 years ago; created curriculum on Augmented Reality programming and worked for a Digital Media Academy summer tech camp as a TA at Stanford this summer. Now Echo is working on building connections between organizations in US and China that share the same mission on entrepreneurship and education innovation.


Program fee includes:

  • Accommodation
  • Transportation for program activities
  • Most scheduled activities
  • Arrival lunch
  • Graduation dinner
    Total: $3250 USD
Costs NOT included in the program fee:

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


Kyoto University – John Mung Scholarship:
If you are applying from Kyoto University, you have an opportunity to receive a scholarship to join VIA’s programs through the John Mung Program. After you pass the selection process by Kyoto University, please submit your VIA application.

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 Exploring Social Innovation (ESI) program. Please contact Professor Ken Ito at itok@sfc.keio.ac.jp to learn more details of the Keio scholarship. The application deadline for the Keio scholarship has been extended to December 10th.

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
    • January: Applications open
    • March – April: Information sessions in Taiwan, Beijing, and Japan
    • April: Round 1 Application Deadline
    • May: Round 2 Application Deadline
  • Application Review
    • Mid-April: Round 1 Interviews
    • Mid-May: Round 2 Interviews
    • Mid-/Late May: Successful applicants notified of acceptance

Program Preparations*

  • May / June
    • 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!