Exploring Social Innovation


Program Dates: August 8-16, 2022 (Cancelled) | February 2023 (Exact Dates TBD)
Open to: Students & starting professionals from Asia & the US (must be 18 or older)
Location: Virtual

The Exploring Social Innovation (ESI) virtual course brings together a diverse cohort of 12-20 students and young professionals from across Asia and the US for an intensive 9-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, virtual discussions, guest speakers from innovative companies, and exchange ideas with local leaders and global friends.

August 2022 Program Cancellation

Please note that the program scheduled for August 8-16, 2022 (Asia Time) has been cancelled. We look forward to resuming the ESI program in February 2023.


Check out the alumni panel discussion video above to learn more about ESI from the first-hand experiences of former participants!

Launched in 2010, the ESI Program has inspired and connected young innovators for more than 10 years. The global pandemic is an opportunity for ESI to innovate itself and explore new ways of connecting and inspiring the next generation of changemakers through a virtual format. We are excited about the possibilities, and invite you to join us on this transformative journey!

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.

Virtual Program 

$900 USD program participation fee includes:

  • 40+ hours of live online presentations, discussions, and interactive workshops
  • Guest speakers from innovative Silicon Valley companies and social impact organizations
  • Access to an online learning platform with additional information, resources, and opportunities to connect with peers

By joining the virtual program, you won’t have to worry about travel time and expenses, and you will still get:

  • Peer and expert mentorship from topic discussion teams, Social Innovation Education Fellows, and VIA staff
  • Opportunities to connect with leaders and innovators in Silicon Valley, and beyond!
  • To build friendships across cultures
  • To expand your English vocabulary and communication skills in formal and informal settings
  • To join an international network of VIA alumni who provide support, inspiration, and opportunities to collaborate

Participants who join all online sessions and group discussions, and complete all activities on the online platform will receive a certificate of completion

Compare to In-Person Program Costs (August 2019)

$2,900 USD program participation fee included:

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

  • Airfare (approx. $2,000 USD)
  • Travel insurance (approx. $25 USD)
  • Daily meals (approx. $300 USD)
  • Optional activities (approx. $200 USD)
  • Personal shopping expenses ($100+ USD)
Total cost to attend an in-person program: $5,500+


Enlight Fellowship:
Successful applicants for this fellowship will receive a $100-500 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.

“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 usually two application deadlines for university students and professionals from all regions. Some universities also have a separate timeline, which will be listed below. These two application deadlines are intended to accommodate differences in everyone’s schedules and allow our staff time to review. Scholarship applicants are encouraged to apply as early as possible. For non-scholarship applicants, there is no difference between applying during the first or second round. However, it’s always a good idea to try and get your application in early.

Sample Program Schedule

All-cohort online sessions will be held in the morning Asia time, evening US time. They will be limited to 4 hours per day (with breaks) and will include sessions with guest speakers, workshops, group work, and individual work.

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: A Deeper Look at Social Innovation
  • Icebreaker
  • Review of Community Norms and Project Expectations
  • Introduction to Social Innovation
  • Overview of Topic Selection & Research Expectations
  • Group Research & Discussion
  • Reflection
Day 2: Introduction to Design-Thinking
  • Icebreaker / Energizer
  • Research Session
  • World Cafe
  • Introduction to Design Thinking, Part 1
  • Reflection
Day 3: Change Starts with Empathy
  • Icebreaker
  • Change Starts with Empathy Workshop
  • Empathy Exercises
  • Reflection Session
  • V-Talk Overview
  • Individual Reflection
Day 4: Creative Space
  • Guest Speaker
  • Team Office Hours
  • V-Talk Preparation/Research
  • Individual Reflection
Day 5: Change Starts with Empathy, Part 2
  • Icebreaker
  • Guest Speaker
  • V-Talks
  • Introduction to Design Thinking, Part 2
  • Reflection
Day 6: Innovation in Action
  • Icebreaker
  • Introduction to Iceberg Exercise
  • Iceberg Activity
  • Mid-Program Reflection
  • Introduction to Problem Statements
  • Problem Statements Activity
Day 7: Innovation Tools
  • Icebreaker
  • Guest Speaker
  • Introduction to Ideation
  • Activity: Worst Ideas
  • Activity: Best Ideas
  • Introduction to Prototyping
  • Reflection
Day 8: Creative Space
  • Action Planning & Sustainability
  • Prototyping
  • Office Hours for Prototyping
  • Reflection
Day 9: Innovation Tools
  • Icebreaker
  • Test: Share & Feedback
  • Program Evaluation
  • Reflection & Celebration

*Past ESI programs have included guest speakers from 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. Although many Silicon Valley companies are allowing employees to work remotely due to COVID-19, we still expect to have guest speakers from many of the same organizations.

Minimum Participation Requirements

In order to join this program and be able to participate fully, you will need:

  • Reliable access to the internet
  • A computer or mobile device with a camera and microphone, or headphones with a microphone
  • Ability to use the Zoom video call application
  • Ability to join all online sessions and group discussions
  • Ability to complete all required activities on the online platform

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.