Prepay Nation promotes Paolo Montessori to Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

BERWYN, Pa., Jan. 04, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Prepay Nation, a leading global B2B prepaid products marketplace, announces the appointment of Paolo Montessori as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The Board of Directors has chosen Montessori to succeed A.J. Hanna as CEO by January 2023 after a thorough succession planning exercise.

After over 3 1/2 years at Prepay Nation, including the past 2 1/2 years as CEO, A.J. Hanna announced he will be leaving his role as CEO and Chairman of Prepay Nation by December 31st, 2022. A.J. will continue to support the transition as a special advisor to the Board of Directors and newly appointed CEO.

Paolo Montessori joined Prepay Nation in October 2021 as the Chief Revenue Officer. Throughout his more than 25–year career, Montessori has established a solid record of accomplishments leading telecom and financial services firms on a wide range of strategic and business–building possibilities during a time of constant evolution in the financial services and payments world. As CEO, Montessori's primary goals will be to strengthen Prepay Nation's financial position and solid foundation of assets, including a worldwide interconnected distribution network and prepaid marketplace, as well as to accelerate the company's growth plans and expand its payment alternatives.

Prepay Nation Board Chairman and CEO A.J. Hanna said, "We are delighted to welcome Paolo Montessori as the next CEO of Prepay Nation. Paolo is a proven leader known for talent development and leadership of teams while spurring growth and innovation in the fintech and telco industries. With his extensive experience expanding Comviva into new geographic regions, as the CEO of eServGlobal where he formed HomeSend, the cross border joint venture with MasterCard, as Chief Executive of Novatti's transaction processing business and CEO of innovative AI powered risk analytics fintech LenddoEFL, he is well–positioned to lead Prepay Nation in this new era. Paolo's focus on accelerating the company's growth and gaining wider adoption of our ecosystem offerings and prepaid marketplace capabilities with users and businesses will launch Prepay Nation 2.0."

Anurag Jain, Co–Founder of Prepay Nation added: "On behalf of the Board of Directors, our global employees, clients, and business partners, I want to thank A.J. for his dedication and enthusiasm to Prepay Nation and congratulate him on the many achievements and milestones we celebrated while he has been at the helm of this dynamic company. Under A.J.'s leadership, Prepay Nation expanded its global reach and grew an industry–leading marketplace for prepaid products and turned our capabilities into a competitive advantage."

Incoming CEO Paolo Montessori said, "Being selected to lead such a well–respected organization as Prepay Nation, a global technology and prepaid global marketplace, serving more than 150+ countries and over 5 billion users is a great honor and a tremendously exciting opportunity.

The passion for innovating with customer needs at heart is what has guided Prepay Nation since its start over a decade ago. I look forward to leading the team at Prepay Nation and working together to chart a future of growth, creating value for our shareholders while supplying essential prepaid services to our global audience."

A.J. Hanna added, "It has been an honor and privilege to lead Prepay Nation and help serve our worldwide partners and their users. I have many cherished memories of the time I spent working with our colleagues, whose talent, loyalty, and commitment to our clients are unmatched. I am proud of the purpose–driven business we shaped together, and I look forward to seeing the company and team flourish under Paolo's leadership."

About Prepay Nation:

Prepay Nation is a leading global B2B prepaid products marketplace that facilitates the purchase of cross–border top ups of mobile airtime, data, gift cards and utility payments across international borders. It boasts an operational presence in 150+ countries, with over 600+ mobile operator's partnerships across 300,000+ retail locations "" backed by a globally distributed team in the U.S., Canada, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. We enable local and global brands to distribute their prepaid products through our omni–channel worldwide reseller network. Our partners benefit from increased sales, customer acquisition, engagement, retention and loyalty.

For more information, please visit or contact Janis D'souza on

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at–3952–4fac–be39–a9e19eaaf650

GLOBENEWSWIRE (Distribution ID 8723970)

Two Female Scientists Win this year’s King Faisal Prize

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 04, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Two women scientists were announced King Faisal Prize for Medicine and Science laureates for 2023: a Covid–19 vaccine developer and a nanotechnology scientist. Six others were announced King Faisal Prize laureates for having enriched humanity with key and invaluable achievements and discoveries in the fields of Medicine, Science, Arabic Language & Literature, Islamic Studies, and Serving Islam.

The woman behind Oxford""AstraZeneca COVID–19 vaccine, Professor Sarah Gilbert, the Sad Chair of Vaccinology in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford University, was selected to receive King Faisal Prize in medicine. She has co–created the vaccine which has been in use in more than 180 countries saving billions of lives due to its efficiency, low cost and accessibility.

The vaccine is called "ChAdOx1 nCoV–19" and was achieved in 10 months of work using a novel approach. Instead of the traditional vaccines' method which uses a weakened or killed form of the original infection and requires a long time to develop in the human body, Gilbert genetically modified a weakened version of a common virus which caused a cold in chimpanzees to be injected in humans without causing an infection. This modified virus became the essence of the vaccine developed by Dr. Gilbert against coronavirus carrying the genetic instructions for the coronavirus spike protein. When entering the body cells, the virus uses a genetic code or instructions to produce the specific surface spike protein of the coronavirus inducing an immune response and preparing the immune system to attack coronavirus if it infects the body.

Dr. Gilbert's innovative vaccine technologies used lately for COVID–19 were also applied by her to Malaria, Ebola, Influenza, and MERS, with clinical trials of the latter taking place in the UK and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She also worked on developing a medicine for it. In fact, the patented ChAdOx1 technology was developed by Dr. Gilbert and other researchers at the University of Oxford in 2012. In 2014, she led the first trial of an Ebola vaccine after a large outbreak of the disease in West Africa. It was because of the ChAdOx1 technology and her accumulated research that the Oxford""AstraZeneca COVID–19 vaccine was produced so quickly.

The other woman scientist selected to receive King Faisal Prize in science is Professor Jackie Yi–Ru Ying; the A*STAR Senior Fellow and Director at NanoBio Lab, Agency for Science, Technology, and Research. She was chosen for her work on the synthesis of various advanced nanomaterials and systems, and their applications in catalysis, energy conversion, and biomedicine. Her inventions have been used to solve challenges in different fields of medicine, chemistry, and energy. Her development of stimuli–responsive polymeric nanoparticles led to a technology which can autoregulate the release of insulin, depending on the blood glucose levels in diabetic patients without the need for external blood glucose monitoring. Dr. Ying's laboratory has pioneered the synthesis of mesoporous and microporous transition metal oxides; a class of nanomaterials used in energy storage and conversion, by supramolecular templating (organizing or assembling entities).

Dr. Ying has more than 180 primary patents and patent applications; 32 of which have been licensed to multinational and start–up companies for a range of applications in nanomedicine, drug delivery, cell and tissue engineering, medical implants, biosensors, medical devices, and others. Her work is at the intersection of nanotechnology and technical medicine and has culminated in the establishment of six successful start–ups and spinoff companies.

Two other Medicine and Science Prize laureates were selected for 2023: Professor Dan Barouch, the Director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the William Bosworth Castle Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Professor Chad Mirkin, the Director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) and the Rathmann Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Medicine, Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern University, respectively.

Professor Dan Barouch developed another COVID–19 viral vector vaccine; the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, using the same technology behind the Oxford""AstraZeneca COVID–19 vaccine. It was administered to hundreds of millions of people worldwide saving their lives. The vaccine was achieved quickly, like Oxford vaccine, in 13 months and was based on engineering a harmless adenovirus (called Ad26) which was a common type of virus that caused mild cold symptoms when it infected a person. The genetically modified virus carries the genetic code for the coronavirus spike protein. After the injection of adenovirus, the cells use the genetic code and produce a spike protein to train the immune system, creating antibodies and memory cells to protect against COVID–19 infection.

The development of the Ad26 vaccine platform was the result of research work and clinical trials to develop vaccine candidates for multiple pathogens of global significance, including HIV and Zika virus, and tuberculosis, making Professor Barouch a pioneer in the creation of a series of vaccine platform technologies that can be used when developing vaccines for emerging infectious diseases, such as COVID–19. Moreover, he led the world's first demonstration of Zika vaccine protection in preclinical studies and launched a series of phase 1 Zika vaccine clinical trials.

The work of Professor Chad Mirkin, which has been at the forefront of nano chemistry for over three decades, has helped define the modern age of nanotechnology. He is widely recognized for his invention of spherical nucleic acids (SNAs), which are nanostructures composed of nucleic acids in a spherical configuration which enter human cells and tissues and overcome biological barriers, making it possible to detect or treat a disease on the genetic level. More than 1,800 products for medical diagnostics, therapeutics, and life science research were based on this technology.

Professor Mirkin is a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence–based materials discovery. He invented dip–pen nanolithography, which was described by National Geographic as one of the "top 100 scientific discoveries that changed the world"; and HARP (high–area rapid printing) technology, a 3D printing process that can manufacture different products like ceramics at record–breaking throughput.

In addition to Medicine and Science, King Faisal Prize recognized this year the achievements of outstanding thinkers and scholars in the fields of Arabic Language & Literature and Islamic Studies, and honored exemplary leaders who played a pivotal role in serving Islam, Muslims, and humanity at large.

Professor Abdelfattah Kilito was announced the laureate for the "Arabic Language and Literature" prize focusing on "Classical Arabic Narrative and Modern Theories". He has been a visiting professor and lecturer at the New Sorbonne, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the University of Oxford, and the College de France. Professor Robert Hillenbrand, Honorary Professorial Fellow in the department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) at the University of Edinburgh, was selected to receive the "Islamic Studies" prize in "Islamic Architecture". His work was distinguished by its geographic and temporal expansiveness, which covered North Africa, Egypt, Palestine, and Central Asia, and spanned from the early Islamic period till the 19th Century.

As for the Service to Islam Prize, Professor Choi Young Kil–Hamed and His Excellency Shaikh Nasser bin Abdullah Al Zaabi were this year's laureates.

Since 1979, King Faisal Prize in its 5 different categories has awarded 290 laureates who have made distinguished contributions to different sciences and causes. Each prize laureate is endowed with USD 200 thousand; a 24–carat gold medal weighing 200 grams, and a Certificate inscribed with the Laureate's name and a summary of their work which qualified them for the prize.


GLOBENEWSWIRE (Distribution ID 8723948)

China: From Zero-Covid to Zero-Control

Medical equipment supplied by the World Food Programme (WFP) arrives in Beijing.
Meanwhile, as COVID-19 infections surged in China, coronavirus experts gathered at the UN health agency in Geneva on January 3, to discuss next steps. Photo courtesy of Yingshi Zhang

By Jan Servaes
BRUSSELS, Jan 4 2023 – Three years after the coronavirus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the Chinese government began in December to abruptly scrap its harsh containment policy known as “zero-Covid.”

This zero-Covid policy relied on strict lockdowns, use of a Covid tracking app, domestic travel restrictions, and quarantining those who test positive along with their close contacts. But the strategy isolated the country from the rest of the world and dealt a severe blow to the world’s second-largest economy.

The government announced that from January 8 onwards, mandatory quarantine on arrival for travelers to China will end and Chinese people will be able to travel abroad again after three years.

The switch followed unprecedented protests against the policies championed by President Xi Jinping, marking the strongest display of public defiance in his decade-long presidency and reminiscent of the 1989 Tiananmen tragedy in many minds.

“What matters is that we reach consensus through communication and consultation. When the 1.4 billion Chinese work with one heart and one mind, and stand in unity with a strong will, no task will be impossible and no difficulty insurmountable”, Xi stated in his nationally broadcast New Year’s message.

“We have now entered a new phase of COVID response where tough challenges remain. Everyone is holding on with great fortitude, and the light of hope is right in front of us. Let’s make an extra effort to pull through, as perseverance and solidarity mean victory.”

The question is: how many Chinese are still being taken in by this tough language now that hospitals have been hit by a tidal wave of mainly elderly patients since the lifting of the zero-covid policy, crematoriums are overloaded and many pharmacies no longer have anti-virus and fever medication.

Initially, photos and video fragments of these harrowing conditions were still censored, but recently even the China Daily reported on them. The magnitude of the outbreak remains unclear for now, and the lack of transparency can be attributed to strict censorship and the fact that government officials have stopped reporting asymptomatic cases and introduced a new definition of covid-related deaths.

Only patients with the virus who die due to pneumonia and respiratory failure now meet the criteria, according to China. The National Health Commission (NHC) further announced that it is no longer releasing an official daily Covid death toll.

In addition, the state news agency Xinhua reported that from January 8, China will lower its priority management of Covid-19 cases and treat it as a class B infection rather than a more severe class A infection. Liang Wannian, head of the expert panel for the COVID-19 response under the NHC, said the shift does not mean China is letting go of the virus, but instead is focusing more resources on rural areas to contain the epidemic.

According to Nikola Davis, science correspondent for The Guardian, China is experiencing this surge for a number of reasons. The relaxation of restrictions has allowed the virus to spread more. Plus, the slow vaccination campaign in much of China, coupled with the use of the less effective locally produced Sinovac vaccine, means the population has little protection and many vulnerable people are still at risk from the virus.

In addition, the tight restrictions previously in place mean few people have contracted Covid before. That means there is little natural immunity at play in the current wave.

As a result, many people are now simultaneously getting Covid and requiring hospital care, leading to increasing pressure on the healthcare system. In addition, the inadequate medical infrastructure (there remains a major shortage of intensive care beds and well-trained staff) as well as substandard general hygiene (clean toilets, washing hands, etc.) must also be added.

So the ink of my contribution on ‘China: From A Health Crisis to A Political Crisis?’ was barely dry before my fears came true: China is in the middle of a relentless covid wave. Chinese authorities estimate that about 250 million people, or 18 percent of the population, were infected with the COVID-19 virus in the first 20 days of December.

Despite this increase, the government insists it has the rising infections and circulating variants under control. Yet these ‘official’ figures do not seem to correspond with the reality on the ground.

People will continue to grope in the dark about the correct figures. The Chinese government and the so-called worldometers are still counting only 5250 covid deaths, while the World Health Organization (WHO) recently published the number of 31,585.

Some academic friends and former students, though not epidemiologists, whisper that up to 60% of the Chinese have or have been exposed to covid.

Airfinity, a UK-based company that analyzes health risks worldwide, also comes with worrying figures. They currently estimate 11,000 daily deaths and 1.8 million infections per day in China, while it expects 1.7 million fatalities by the end of April 2023.

The researchers say their model is based on data from China’s regional provinces, before changes in infection reporting, combined with case growth rates from other former zero-Covid countries.

It is feared that the numbers will rise even more in the coming weeks. Especially around the Chinese New Year on January 22, when almost every Chinese goes to visit friends and family.

Is Xi Jinping firmly in the saddle?

Xi Jinping secured a historic third term as leader in October, emerging as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong. He thus further consolidated his power in a process that began a decade ago, a concentration that has steered China in a more authoritarian direction and which critics warn increases the risk of policy missteps.

The year 2022 ended with unprecedented street protests, followed by the sudden reversal of its zero-Covid policy and coronavirus infections sweeping through the world’s most populous country. This, together with the sluggish economy, has damaged his image considerably.

For decades, China has been the world’s leading economic growth engine and the hub of industrial supply chains. The World Bank and other experts expect the reopening of the Chinese economy to boost growth to 4.3% in 2023, compared to the forecast of 2.7% for 2022.

This is still reasonable by international standards, but remains below the official target of about 5.5%. Choked consumption and disrupted supply chains continue to weigh on the crisis in the huge real estate sector. A prolonged economic slowdown or new logistical concerns, whether due to COVID or geopolitical tensions, could reverberate globally.

Beijing’s relations with the West deteriorated over Xi’s partnership with Moscow just before Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, as well as rising tensions over US-backed Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.

Xi traveled abroad for the first time since the pandemic began in September, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In November, he met US President Joe Biden at the G20 in Indonesia, where both sides sought to cement relations.

According to Chinese diplomacy, a recent phone call between China’s new foreign minister Qin Gang (the outgoing ambassador to Washington and Xi’s confidant) and US secretary of state Antony Blinken has ironed out the folds.

Diplomatically, Xi appears to be trying to ease some of the tension that has made relations with the West increasingly fraught, even as Beijing tries to strengthen its position as a counterweight to the post-World War II US-led order. Xi’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia and meetings with representatives of Gulf states could be viewed in this context.

But things are also rumbling within the government and the almighty Communist Party (CCP). Leaked excerpts of an internal policy brief published in the Sydney Morning Herald, discussed at a recent Politburo, state that “the zero-Covid dynamic was an unqualified success and demonstrated the superiority of the Chinese communist system over the cowardly and immoral West, but that it can now be brushed aside because omicron is ‘just like the flu’”.

“We must resolutely follow the line of the party. We must never deviate from the notes,” Xi told the Politburo during the “self-criticism” session, a Maoist practice that is back in vogue.

Authoritarian regimes with near-absolute control over the media can sometimes facilitate breathtakingly destructive policies. It is difficult to think of a more unhinged policy than suddenly exposing an inadequately vaccinated population to massive infection in the middle of winter, just before the great Chinese New Year inland migration.

Fortitude appears to be one of Xi Jinping’s principles, as his New Year’s letter affirmed: “Everyone stands firm with great fortitude, and the light of hope stands right before us.”

Jan Servaes was UNESCO-Chair in Communication for Sustainable Social Change at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He taught ‘international communication’ in Australia, Belgium, China, Hong Kong, the US, Netherlands and Thailand, in addition to short-term projects at about 120 universities in 55 countries. He is editor of the 2020 Handbook on Communication for Development and Social Change.

IPS UN Bureau


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Women Commuters Travel Safe in Innovative Bus Scheme in Pakistan

Women students and workers travel free from harassment in the BRT buses, which reserves seats for them in the conservative region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Women students and workers travel free from harassment in the BRT buses, which reserves seats for them in the conservative region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Jan 4 2023 – A bus rapid transport (BRT) system in Peshawar is benefiting female students and working women by providing a safe journey – something women passengers could not take for granted on regular public transport.

“Prior to the launch of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, girls faced enormous hardships in reaching colleges and universities, but now, we don’t have any issue in getting to our respective institutions in a timely manner,” Javeria Khan, 21, a student at the University of Peshawar, told IPS.

She said that two of her elder sisters had left education after completion of secondary school because of a lack of proper transportation services.

“Now, there is a sea-change as far transportation is concerned; thanks to BRT through, we reach home on time without any hindrance,” Javeria, a student at the Department of Chemistry, said.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces, is considered conservative where most women cover their faces while venturing out in public and avoid traveling with men in buses; the new service has proved a blessing for the female population living in the capital city of Peshawar.

There is a 27 km long corridor with as many stations to facilitate about 400,000 people every day, including 20 percent women.

BRT launched in April 2020, fleet contains a fleet of 150 air-conditioned buses imported from China, which charge people USD 0.24 from the first to the last station, and the fare is only USD 0.09 for a single stop.

“We have allocated 25 seats to women in each bus, so they don’t face any harassment. The buses go along the main road, which provides a service to the general public as well as the students,” Umair Khan, spokesman for BRT, told IPS.

Before the BRT, there were complaints of harassment and high fares charged by private buses, which deterred the women from traveling, he said. “Now, women have separate compartments with security measures in place to ensure the safe journey of all the commuters.”

In February 2022, the BRT received Gold Standard Award for transforming transport through its clean technology buses and promoting non-motorized traffic. A month before, it received the certificate of International Sustainable Award from the International Transport Organization, while UN Women has also honored the BRT for providing a safe traveling facility to women.

Transport Ticketing Global, UK presented the award to BRT for easing the lives of a large segment of society using innovative solutions, Khan said.

A local resident, Palwasha Bibi, 30, told IPS that she thinks that the BRT has been constructed to assist women workers.

“It was a Herculean task to get a seat in a private bus before the BRT. Even if one was lucky to get a seat, the fares were high, and the drivers were reluctant to drive fast as they waited for more people to embark on the bus to earn more money,” Bibi, who works in a garment factory in Peshawar’s industrial Estate, said.

More often than not, my colleagues and I encountered pay cuts for arriving late at the factory, she said. “Now, we reach 15 minutes before duty time because the BRT has a strict timing schedule. It stops at every station for 20 seconds only,” Bibi said.

BRT is also helping the common people.

Muhammad Zaheer, 31, a salesman at a grocery shop, said that he had been using a motorbike to reach the outlet, which cost him more money and time.

“Many times, I also faced minor accidents due to huge rush on the road, but now the BRT has a signal-free route with no chance of accidents, and the cost is very low,” he said.

Our manager is very happy that I get to the shop early than my duty time, and the same is true for over a dozen of my co-workers, Zaheer, father of three, said.

Naureena Shah a female student at the Islamia College Peshawar, said the BRT had been a blessing for her.

“My parents have asked me to stop education because every day we encountered problems, but the BRT has helped me to continue my studies because I arrive at the college and get back home well on time,” she said. My parents are no longer opposing my studies because they also use BRT for shopping and so on, she said.

Now, I will get medical education to serve patients, she said.

Nasreen Hamid, a schoolteacher, is all praise for BRT services.

“It has benefitted me in two ways. I use the service for going to duty and getting back home and also for going to market,” she said.

Spogmay Khan (17), a second-year student at the Jinnah College for Women, said that all her class fellows were praising former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who started the service in the city.

She said most of the students who were dropped off by fathers or brothers at the college were now traveling alone because the buses were safe.

“The main road remains flooded with vehicles, making it difficult to attend classes with punctuality, but the BRT route is smooth, and no traffic jams, due to which we enjoy traveling in the buses,” she said.

Khan said that it has really improved women’s education and the credit goes to former Prime Minister Imran Khan. “Many of our classmates wouldn’t have been able to take admission because of the messy traffic and worn-out buses, but the BRT has solved this issue, once and for all,” she said

BRT’s spokesman Umair Khan said they had started feeder routes to ensure passengers can use the facility near their homes. The feeder buses use the roads, and the passengers take these buses after disembarking from the buses on (BRT) corridors.

“About 20 percent of the BRT’s 4000 employees are females,” he said.
IPS UN Bureau Report


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