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.
Upcoming Information Sessions
Join one of our information sessions to meet the director, learn more about the program, and ask questions! Click the links to see the meeting time in your local timezone and to register:
- ESI Info Session, hosted on Zoom (click here to register) – May 13 (Thursday) 7:00 PM US Pacific Time / May 14 (Friday) morning in Asia
- ESI Info Session, hosted on Zoom (click here to register) – June 11 (Friday) 7:00 PM US Pacific Time / June 12 (Saturday) morning in Asia
Continue reading below to learn more about the program, or click the blue APPLY button if you’re ready to start your application. After clicking the APPLY button, you will be taken to the application portal to create a user account. This will allow you to save your progress and return to continue your application at any time.
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 (August 2021)
$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 2020)
|$2,900 USD program participation fee included:
||Additional costs not included in the program fee:
|Total cost to attend an in-person program: $5,500+|
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.
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!
The application will open in April. There are three application deadlines, and this is just 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, second, or third round. However, it’s always a good idea to try and get your application in early.
- Round 1
- Application Deadline: April 25 (US) | April 26 (Asia)
- Interviews: April 26 – May 13
- Results: May 14 (US) | May 15 (Asia)
- Round 2
- Application Deadline: May 23 (US) | May 24 (Asia)
- Interviews: May 25 – June 3
- Results: June 4 (US) | June 5 (Asia)
- Round 3
- Application Deadline: June 20 (US) | June 21 (Asia)
- Interviews: June 22 – June 27
- Results: June 28 (US) | June 29 (Asia)
Deadlines by University
- Rikkyo University – May 24 (Round 2), students must complete the interview by May 30
- Doshisha University – June 21 (Round 3)
The following schedule is tentative. 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||July 30 (Fri) 5:00 – 7:00 PM US Pacific Time|
|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||August 9 (Mon) 5:00 – 9:00 PM US Pacific Time|
|Day 2: Introduction to Design-Thinking||August 10 (Tues) 5:00 – 9:00 PM US Pacific Time|
|Day 3: Change Starts with Empathy||August 11 (Wed) 5:00 – 9:00 PM US Pacific Time|
|Day 4: Creative Space||August 12 (Thurs) 5:00 – 9:00 PM US Pacific Time|
|Day 5: Change Starts with Empathy, Part 2||August 13 (Fri) 5:00 – 9:00 PM US Pacific Time|
|Day 6: Innovation in Action||August 14 (Sat) 5:00 – 9:00 PM US Pacific Time|
|Day 7: Innovation Tools||August 15 (Sun) 5:00 – 9:00 PM US Pacific Time|
|Day 8: Creative Space||August 16 (Mon) 5:00 – 9:00 PM US Pacific Time|
|Day 9: Innovation Tools||August 17 (Tues) 5:00 – 9:00 PM US Pacific Time|
*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
In the application, you can share about yourself [in English] in 3 sections:
- Background & Contact Information – Tell us some basic information about yourself and how to reach you.
- 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.
- If you are applying for a scholarship, you MUST make a video [no more than 5 minutes]. Click here for video tips.
- 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.