Pictures: Provided and Trillion Productions
From starting one of the largest LGBTQ+ organisations in the Middle East to breaking glass ceilings in the corporate world, Adel Naamneh has followed his own path, finding success along the way.
Adel grew up in a small village in the North of Israel, but at the age of fourteen, he told his parents he wanted to move out, deciding to go to a boarding school. He moved to Jerusalem, two hundred kilometres from home.
Despite being a Palestinian minority in the new school, he felt a sense of belonging. He describes the school as the place that shaped who he is today, it was very open and liberal, instilling in him a strong sense of inclusion, acceptance, and respect for everybody. It was here, during his school years, that alongside a few friends he founded, alQaws, the first-ever Palestinian LGBTQ+ organisation.
"There was no organisation or anyone who could give support to someone like me," Adel says. "I had no role models, no one to talk to or to support me in my language. I felt comfortable going to the support groups in Hebrew, yet at the same time, it didn’t offer support specialised to my culture and that was what I really needed."
Today, alQaws has grown to become one of the biggest LGBTQ+ rights organisations in the Middle East, supporting people not just in Jerusalem but across the Levant region. The organisation is at the forefront of social change in the Middle East, building community and pushing the boundaries for acceptance. They also offer vital services to LGBTQ+ people to help navigate through crises and build a support network for LGBTQ+ people.
Despite surrounding himself with an accepting community, everything changed drastically for Adel during a holiday in Sweden when he was outed to his family. Not long after, Adel was cut off from his family, leaving him living on the streets and facing a new reality in a foreign country.
Adel explains he had too much pride to tell his friends what had happened and that he was now homeless. However, they started to pick up on the fact that something wasn’t right and pushed him to confide in them. It was a time in his life that very easily could have dragged him to a dark place, but, if anything, it taught him that he is a fighter. With supportive friends and a strong determination, he pulled himself upwards.
"I lost my family. And there is no way you can fill that space with someone or something else. It’s not about 'coming out', that’s a very Western term and it doesn’t necessarily apply to me. But it's just the fact that, at that point, your life turns into a place where you don't know what to do anymore because everything you knew in your life is taken away or lost."
Adel found a job and quickly started on a work visa application so he could stay in Sweden. Over the next decade, he worked his way up through the payments industry at Digital River World Payments and Ingenico, now both known as Worldline, travelling the world as he did so. Through hard work and continued success in his previous roles, he’s now the VP of Global Strategic Solutions at Checkout.com with a team he considers family.
Checkout.com is leading the way when it comes to seamless online payments. Having reliable and fast payment technology is now non-negotiable for practically any business and Adel explains that this is critical for the growth and survival of his clients.
One example of just how critical this service is, Adel shares, is when Checkout.com received a call from the company Curve. Their payment provider had gone into bankruptcy meaning they had no way of accepting payments. Adel and his team worked non-stop over the coming days to get this up and running for them, knowing that if they weren’t quick enough it could have a devastating impact on their customers.
"I’ve always had a passion for solving problems and cutting through complexities in life. My motto at work is that my job is to simplify payments and make someone else’s life easier," Adel says. "Either by having the knowledge needed or by offering a solution that makes running their business much easier for them. But sometimes it’s just by being there, supporting them and working those extra hours to save their business."
Honesty and trust are at the core of how Adel and Checkout.com approach their work, he explains. He has a global vision for the business and is currently working to make this happen. However, central to this is creating a competitive market built on trust and being able to problem-solve for their customers.
Victor and Adel (Photo: Trillion Productions)
This notion of trust and respect is not just present with clients but is present in every aspect of the business – especially how they treat each other internally. Throughout his over-ten-year career, Checkout.com is among a few places that Adel has felt he could truly bring his full self to work, not having to hide who he is or put up with ignorant comments.
"For me, Checkout.com is more than just the workplace. I see Checkout.com as more than just a business but as a family. I care deeply about the business and what we do.
"And it's important to me to leave a legacy behind. We want to create the greatest payments company in the world, to provide the best service on all levels, but also to be role models of what it is to stand out and enable businesses and their communities to thrive in the digital economy.
"What makes Checkout.com so special for me is the openness and the inclusion of the business. At Checkout.com, you are equal, and your voice is heard because everyone matters, regardless of any other parameter such as race, colour, or sexual orientation. And I do think of my career and my progress at Checkout.com as breaking those glass ceilings because it should be obvious, but it is not, as many people still do not think that you can be both successful and an LGBTQ+ person."
This is a sentiment that Adel carries into his leadership, knowing what it is like to not have any role models to look up to, he is acutely aware of the responsibility as a leader to change this for others. "As leaders, our biggest responsibility is to demand diversity and inclusion," says Adel, explaining that this starts with the hiring process.
One of the biggest advantages to working in a multinational organisation is how it opens worlds and horizons for people, which in part it has done for Adel himself, so he goes into each interview knowing this. "Diversity and inclusion should be celebrated, bringing people together from all walks of life, learning other people’s cultures and customs, it is what makes our lives rich and special."
Adel, Victor and Arthur the Corgi (Photo: Trillion Productions)
Outside of his career, Adel continues to support those looking for community and acceptance. Being able to speak a few languages, along with his personal experience of leaving his hometown so he could live openly, he uses his unique perspective to help LGBTQ+ people in need.
Adel has created his own blueprint of what it means to be successful. Newly married, he’s now planning to move to New York with his husband to help execute Checkout.com’s growth and strategy. The lessons he has learned are instilled in his leadership style and being allowed to flourish in an inclusive environment at Checkout.com has given him the chance to grow so that he can do the same for others.
Throughout his life, he has been strong in his resolve to live authentically, not hiding who he is, and by doing so he has set the stage to make this easier for the next LGBTQ+ generation.