For many years, Khadra sat under a tree by a dirt road in the small town of Gabiley and called it her shop.
She’d spread her vegetables on the floor and wait there in the afternoon heat, watching them gather dust as people wandered past, some stopping to buy something, but most not.
Each day she’d make about US$3, before the sun started to fall and she went home to her family and her housework.
It was just enough to get by. But as with many people living on the brink of poverty, one stroke of bad luck was all it took to tip Khadra over the edge.
The push came when her daughter got sick and needed treatment in Ethiopia.
“I’d brought my children up fine,” says Khadra. “But now I had to bring up seven grandchildren, too.”
There wasn’t enough money and so eventually hard decisions had to be made. They ate less meat. Things were sold. Some of the kids had to drop out of school.
In 2012, as Khadra dusted off her vegetables by the side of the road and some of her grandchildren went to school — and some stayed home — staff from the district council met with local people to ask what they wanted from their government.
There were plenty of women like Khadra, who had produce to sell and nowhere decent to do it.
Give us a proper market, they said. Somewhere clean. Somewhere we can work out of the sun. With running water and toilets and garbage collection. Somewhere customers will want to come.
The consultations were part of a joint UN programme to recreate local administrations devastated by 30 years of civil war.
As well as setting up systems to canvas feedback and make sure citizens have a say in decision making, the programme helps government staff design laws and policies for how government should be run, with clear lines of accountability and transparent rules for procurement, budgeting and financial oversight.
The project also trains officials on how to operate these systems, sets up work-placement schemes to bring in university graduates, and helps repair or resupply damaged and dilapidated facilities.
When all this is in place — good systems, well-trained staff, decent facilities and mechanisms for citizen engagement — local government becomes an engine to power local development.
And so when work started on Gabiley’s new market, a transparent bidding process ensured that the best contractors and suppliers were hired for the job. Contracts and payments were handled with strict oversight and work was closely monitored from start to finish.
The market was built on time and to budget. Just as the people had asked, it included covered areas so trade could go on in the rainy season or when the sun shone at full blast. There were clean toilets and running water, too.
For Khadra, things started to look up. Now she earns more than US$20 a day — six times what she used to make.
And all her grandchildren are back in school.
The UN Joint Programme on Local Governance (JPLG) is an initiative from UNDP, UNICEF, UNHABITAT, UNCDF and the ILO.
Working hand-in-hand with local government and local people, JPLG improves the way government is run at the city and state levels in all five Member States in order to boost economic development and make communities stronger in the face of conflict, climate disaster and other challenges.
Funding from: Denmark, EU, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
Find out more: tiny.cc/JPLG