Exploring Social Innovation

Exploring Social Innovation


Program Dates: August 4-14, 2019
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.


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.


Meet the Spring 2019 Coordinator Team!

Mami Shimokawa, Social Innovation Education Fellow

Mami is a 4th year student of Keio University, Tokyo, and majoring economics. She’s been involved in ESI family since 2016, and this is the second time for her to be a coordinator. The reason why she stays connected with ESI is because she loves the moment when she’s motivated to learn something new by knowing what other participants are interested in and trying to solve in the society through a lot of fun and creative activities during the program. Now she’s curious to find out the relationship between exposure to globalization and people’s incentives to get educated in South East Asian countries due to the experiences of ESI and studying abroad at UC Berkeley. She will be proceeding to graduate school to do her research on this topic by using the perspectives of development economics.

Ayano Sasaki, Coordinator for Community Engagement

Ayano Sasaki is an exchange student in The University of Hong Kong and a junior student in Kyushu University in Japan and studying China Studies in Hong Kong. Through her experience of living in various places in Japan from her childhood, she is interested in social problems in both urban and rural areas so she did internship in Japanese Ministries. To expand her perspective to the world, she joined in one of VIA’s program, Global Leadership Engagement (GLE), in 2017. Through the program, she got interest in leadership and social innovation in the international society. After that, she joined 69th Japan America Student Conference and served at vice-chair and a coordinator of ‘Technology and Innovation round table’ in 70 th Japan America Student Conference in the following year. Also, she joined TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program and visited United States to learn leadership. Because of her interest in relationship between Japan and Korea as a Japanese, she was dispatched to South Korea as a representative of Japanese university student by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and served panelist for Japan, Korea and United States trilateral relationships at National Press Club in Washington D.C. Also she was awarded by Korean Cultural Center of Korean Embassy in Japan for an essay about relationship between Japan and Korea. She believes that VIA’s program has power to encourage students from Asia to make an action in the real society because for her VIA was also a big turning point of her life to expand her perspective to the world. That is why she wants to make VIA the place where people can find and express themselves and also make a map for their life. She is happy to help students from Asia make use of VIA’s very creative and international environment.

Zhixin (Laura) Chen, Coordinator for Community Engagement

Laura is a graduate student at Columbia University and studies quantitative methods in the social sciences. She likes to think social issues and her interests in social innovation was sparked by her experiences in volunteer teaching and some rural poverty research in college.She joined VIA in 2016 as a ESI participant and gained a lot of innovative insights from the experiences in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Not only corporate visits brought her solutions that USA utilized to solve social problems, but also participants from other countries sparked her thinking. After her VIA trip, she also put insights into practice and try to find more better ways to move forward social innovation development. Now, she is trying to use quantitative methods to research social problems.For this time, as a coordinator, Laura hopes to help those young students, those potential change makers to expand their horizons and also help to provide a good peer stage for them to communicate and learn together.


Program fee includes:

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

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


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
    • February: Applications open
    • March-April: Information sessions in mainland China, Taiwan, and Japan
    • April 21: Round 1 Application Deadline
    • May 13: Round 2 Application Deadline
  • Application Review
    • Late April: Round 1 Interviews
    • Mid-May: Round 2 Interviews
    • May: Successful applicants notified of acceptance

Program Preparations*

  • June – July
    • 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!