Exploring Social Innovation

Share thisShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone
Exploring Social Innovation


Program Dates: February 7-17, 2018
Open to: University students (18 and older) & starting professionals
Location: San Francisco & Silicon Valley, California

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.



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.



2017 Summer Program Staff


Cicy (Shengnan) Zhang
Social Innovation Education Fellow
Cicy is an interpreter, global traveller, visionary change-maker from Beijing, China, whose step has been to 23 countries on 5 continents and is still exploring more. She is passionate about international education and creating opportunities for young students all across China to develop them into the leaders of tomorrow. As a Rhodes Scholar Finalist, Cicy is an admitted graduate student at Harvard University. After finishing her master study in Social Entrepreneurship at Watson University in Colorado in 2016, Cicy is currently in Colombia, South America with the national education program “Colombia Bilingüe”, as a frontline English teacher at a local high school. She has delivered leadership training workshops in more than 20 developing countries including Iran, Vietnam, Morocco and Egypt. She is most passionate about learning how to integrate strategy, leadership and sustainability into real transformation in higher and secondary education.

Charleen Tan
ESI July Coordinator
Charleen joined VIA in 2013 through the Exchange for Social Entrepreneurs and Leaders (XSEL) program, where she gained a new-found passion for social innovation and change-making, and has since returned as ESI coordinator twice. Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she graduated with a Bachelor’s in Global Studies from Hiroshima, Japan and is now pursuing her masters in Project Management and Innovation in Glasgow, UK. Being fluent in multiple languages, she loves to write and learn about other cultures, and is working on establishing a youth program to foster story-telling techniques back home. Her passion lies in developing and nurturing young talent in Malaysia, particularly in the creative industry, where she feels a need for voices to be heard and original content to be created. She hopes to be able to establish her own enterprise someday, and will gladly chat with you for hours if you offer her tea!

Daniel  (Zequn) Jiang
ESI July Coordinator
Daniel is an interpreter from Macau. Dedicated to voluntary service, he once participated in various programs and events, e.g., Youth Speaker Forum (AIESEC), GSLP (VIA), TEDx, Siggraph. He values the relationships built in every program and he has strong passion in promoting students’ all-round development and equality in education. He is a university graduate of English Education from China. He once taught Debate and English to Thailand’s suburban students and interned in a first-class Chinese high school. As an interpreter, he faithfully translates the source text into the target text. As a teacher, however, he aims to help students to “interpret” on their own, follow their inner voice, and be creative.

Rainy (Fronthip) Watcharaporn
ESI July Coordinator
Rainy is a 6th year medical student and co-founder of Nudmor Foundation in Thailand. She has joined and led many programs on both national and international levels, such as ASEAN Social Enterprise Program, Asian Youth Leadership Program, TEDxMahidolU, One Young World and Teach for Thailand. She also won many competitions in reforming Thailand. She is dedicated to doing numerous volunteer works, especially in terms of health and education. She loves to be an inspirational innovator to empower others and also focuses on developing Thailand’s health service system and education system using social innovations and technologies. Rainy was one of the ESI participants in August 2016. She decided to be an ESI coordinator because she wants to exchange some experiences, meet new friends and work with VIA.

Charlene (HiuLam) Tse
ESI August Coordinator
Charlene is an alumna of the ESI Spring 2016 program. Instead of directly running a program solving social problems like she did in high school, Charlene is now studying professional filmmaking and communication to see how these can influence people by combining together. She is exploring how to apply theoretical knowledge to practice, including shooting documentary and short films guided by French and Macanese directors and working on a spoken history project with a local TV in Macau. Additionally, Charlene is involved in event management and PR through AIESEC UM and voluntary work by being a TA for VIA’s AYLP participants and Chinese high school students. Charlene is also a journalist team leader for her campus newspaper and co-founder of VIA Macau alumni community which offers workshops and Proaction Cafe for college students. In addiction, Charlene has great interest in art exhibition like MOCA or Art Basel HK, traveling, and listening to people’s stories 🙂

Fiona (Yibing) Zheng
ESI August Coordinator
Fiona is a past-participant of ESI summer program in 2015. She is currently studying Contemporary English Studies in Lingnan University in Hong Kong and will pursue her Master’s degree in International Educational Development in Columbia University in September. The ESI program has brought her a lot of insights on social innovation, community development and being a global citizen. She is passionate about social enterprises and all innovative ideas that could make social impacts to the community. She is also interested in service-learning and currently takes a part-time job as S-L Teaching Assistant in Lingnan University. She strongly believes everyone is a potential changemaker and education is the key to activate that potential. The ESI program is one of the keys to open her world and she hopes to bring more valuable programs like this and spread creative ideas to more people in the world.

Sayaka Kawahara
ESI August Coordinator
Sayaka is pursing her master’s study in public health especially focusing on mental health at Osaka University. She studied German culture and modern history in Germany and Europe at a university in Germany for a year as an exchange student when she was in her bachelor’s program. However, after realizing that happiness is not only gained by material wealth and social status, but also with mental happiness and health, she was motivated to major in a totally different department. Also she was one of the participants for VIA’s Design-thinking for Social Innovation programs this spring and the experience there enriched her life and gave her a chance to rethink about her future deeply. Through the role as a coordinator for ESI 2017 Summer, she would try to be supportive leader, who always have compassion toward others others to understand the situation better and can make the best decision in the right way.




Program fee includes:

  • Accommodation
  • Transportation for program activities
  • Most scheduled activities
  • Arrival lunch
  • Graduation dinner
    Total: $3100 (estimated)
Costs NOT included in the program fee:

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


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 social innovation and leadership programs. When you submit your online application to VIA, please also send a 1-page essay in Japanese describing 1) why you want to join VIA’s program, and 2) what you hope to a accomplish to Professor Ken Ito at itok@sfc.keio.ac.jp.

Enlight Fellowship:
Successful applicants for this fellowship will receive a $1000-2000 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

“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!!」

Application Period

  • September: Applications open
  • November: Information sessions in Taiwan, Beijing, and Japan
  • Early December: Application deadline

Application Review

  • Mid-December: Interviews
  • Late December: Successful applicants notified of acceptance

Program Preparations*

  • January
    • 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:
    1. Why do you want to participate in a program focusing on social innovation?
    2. What do you hope to gain or improve by participating in this program?
    3. 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 button to get started!