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 people 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 social 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 or peoples’ movements to re-skill and re-tool themselves for the struggle to bring about democratic social change in an age of corporate-driven globalization. Essentially, the Institute works with various social movements and community-based groups to develop methods, strategies and tactics for effectively challenging public policy making on vital economic, environmental and social justice issues with a particular focus on unmasking the corporate power that lies behind governments today. In so doing, the Institute acts a catalytic agent in bringing together constituency-based groups impacted by key policy struggles [e.g. labor unions, eco-justice groups, farmers’ movements, public interest groups, faith-based organizations, Indigenous peoples, youth groups and community organizations] with a view to increasing their capacities to organize their own strategic campaigns on issues of vital concern to their members and allies. This catalytic role usually entails developing working alliances between campaign activists, policy advocates, and community organizers. In carrying out this mission, Polaris works not only on selected campaign priorities in Canada, but also bi-nationally in the US and internationally with social movements and allied groups in the global south and north.
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 active participants in society. The task is to assist social 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 a symbol for our role as a compass for social movements.