As Margaret Mead allegedly said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Not the only thing, perhaps, but there’s growing evidence that social movements — groups of dedicated actors that aim to promote shared social or cultural goals — can have an impact on promoting new firms and industries.

IESE Business School’s Desirée Pacheco and Theodore A. Khoury of Portland State University examine the role of social movements in the development of solar energy in the United States. Specifically, they look at how social movements can successfully create an environment in which firms feel encouraged to enter the market, and in which circumstances they have the most clout.

As countries increasingly accept the need to replace fossil fuels with sustainable energy sources, the environmental benefits of solar energy become ever clearer. Despite this, not all economies have rushed to embrace solar in a timely fashion, leaving much of the groundwork to be covered by social movements.

In the U.S., tech-focused social movements, such as Acadia Center in Maine or the Energy Trust of Oregon, have lobbied for its adoption in several ways, including:

  • awareness campaigns
  • training and educational programs
  • supporting good ideas, fighting misinformation and finding common ground
  • pushing for regulatory reform
  • managing programs for swapping or upgrading

All these initiatives help a new industry come across as viable and legitimate. They clarify the unknowns in a firm’s offering, push for legal frameworks that make room for them, and target potential customers.

In the case of solar energy in the U.S., state-level laws define many residents’ attitudes toward the industry. Pacheco and Khoury’s research shows that it is precisely where the regional ecology is least supportive of solar offerings that social movements can make a larger difference.

To read the full article in Forbes India, click here.