Initially, the idea of the Polaris Institute was conceived in 1996 following a decade of social movement building in opposition to two major free trade agreements that dramatically restructured the economy and society here in Canada. The pivotal lesson that emerged from this social movement experience was that transnational corporations had effectively secured control over the reins of public policy making in this country [and elsewhere] to the point where citizens were becoming politically disenfranchised. In effect, a form of corporate governance had been established which, in turn, meant that citizen movements had to develop new methods, strategies and tools in order to bring about democratic social change. What's more, it became evident that citizen movements in other countries were facing similar challenges. As a response, the Polaris Institute was launched in 1997.
As its stated objective, Polaris is designed to enable citizen movements to re-skill and re-tool themselves to fight for democratic social change in an age of corporate driven globalization. Essentially, the Institute works with citizen movements in developing the kinds of strategies and tactics required to unmask and challenge the corporate power that is the driving force behind governments concerning public policy making on economic, social and environmental issues. In so doing, the Institute serves as a catalyst with constituency-based social movements, increasing their capacity to do their own strategic campaign planning on issues of vital concern to their members and allies. The work of Polaris with social movements is also carried out on both a national and an international basis.
The Polaris logo is meant to symbolize this raison d'être. The term polaris itself refers to original Greek word for the north star. Just as ships lost at sea have often turned to the north star to guide them home, the Polaris Institute tries to provide a compass for social movements in this new age of corporate-driven globalization. The prime objective of Polaris is to guide people 'home' to the essence of democracy and their role as citizens. The task is to assist citizen movements in developing campaign strategies for democratic social change by targeting and confronting the corporate powers that have highjacked the public policy making process at local, national and international levels. Thus, the north star in our logo serves as an ecological symbol for our role as a compass for social movements.