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Social Impact Leadership Accelerator

What are our program alumni motivated to do after they participate in a VIA program? This was a central question in recent alumni surveys and alumni summits, and it turns out that many of our alumni are hungry to launch their own social impact projects in their home communities, but need support to get their ideas off the ground.

So in January 2020, we launched our 6-month virtual Social Impact Leadership Accelerator program to serve as a launchpad for local, community-driven change. The Accelerator brings together cohorts of teams from diverse backgrounds and social sectors to achieve collective impact on a broad scale.

Through virtual sessions and an online learning platform, teams learn how to:

  • Build effective teams with a clear and compelling vision for social impact
  • Critically analyze and apply sustainability frameworks
  • Define their mission and their unique approach to social challenges
  • Design and implement social impact projects

Our first two cohorts were made up of teams representing Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, and the US. The infographic below illustrates the project themes that the teams focused on.

Through virtual sessions and modules delivered through an online learning platform, we guide the teams to formulate problem statements, conduct needfinding, and develop a theory of change, a program design model, and an assessment plan that would shape their project. At the end of the program, each team has an opportunity to pitch their ideas to an audience from the VIA community and receive feedback.

A major key to the success of the Accelerator program is the program coordinators who mentor the project teams. This year, we were fortunate to have Carrie Soo Hoo, Hannah Sorenson, and Laura Galang, who were part of the most recent Global Community Fellowship, to take on the coordinator role. They work closely with the various project teams and play a critical role in guiding them through the program modules.

Read on for an interview with Hannah Sorenson on her experience working on the Accelerator program.

  • What have you enjoyed most about being a coordinator for the Accelerator program?

Building relationships with teams has easily been the most fulfilling part of the Accelerator program. When the program started, we were hoping to be able to complete on-site visits and hold a summer conference with our participants; unfortunately, due to COVID, we were unable to do so. The mental shift from working in-community in Bangkok or Fukuoka to Zoom is undoubtedly jarring. Still, we are able to build community, learn from each other, and even form friendships. In the last nine months, we’ve meditated, sang, and traded recipes in our newfound community — a group of people I’ll cherish forever.   

  • Please share about one of the teams you have supported.

One team I’m currently supporting is based in Bangkok. During their interview, I knew I wanted to work with them. A lot of the teams we support are working on large-scale, long-term, multi-faceted projects. Contrastingly, this team is approaching a very specific issue with a short-term tech-based solution: addressing education inequality in Thailand by increasing accessibility and quality of teachers’ materials. Their project struck home with my experience attending a charter school in rural Minnesota, long viewed as “less than” by others. The team’s experiences and passions permeate their action-oriented approach, giving it a notable “living” quality. They’re also funny, which doesn’t hurt.  

  • While your Global Community Fellow (GCF) opportunity was canceled halfway through the year due to COVID, how has the Accelerator experience impacted you?

I really struggled with GCF ending early. In my case, it was due to a visa issue that aligned with COVID. I was heartbroken at the prospect of leaving the family I found in Indonesia and my five co-fellows. I was willing to do anything to stay a part of the VIA community. In many ways, the Accelerator spared me from some of the shock and trauma of being ripped out of Indonesia so quickly and isolated in the US by building a bridge to my cohort, stronger connections with VIA staff, and keeping me engaged in VIA’s work.

If you would like to learn more about the Social Impact Accelerator or know people who may be interested in joining, please visit the program website at viaprograms.org/accelerator.

Applications for the Spring 2021 cohort are now open until December 6th, 2020.