Interview: Luciano Manzo, President and CEO of Make-A-Wish International

Luciano Manzo make-a-wish international

For decades, Make-A-Wish has been fulfilling the dreams of children battling critical illnesses around the world. A cherished wish can transform their lives and change the course of their illness, but with so many children to reach, Make-A-Wish International has set itself a new challenge: to double the number of wishes fulfilled by 2030. The charity, led by Luciano Manzo, is turning to Monaco to help reach that goal. 

Since 2020, Luciano Manzo has spearheaded Make-A-Wish International, transitioning from a corporate CEO to a charitable leader. This shift from “profit to relevance” has been “an honour and a real privilege”, he tells Monaco Life’s Cassandra Tanti.

On 16th June, over a hundred VIP guests, celebrities and notable Monaco residents will be gathering at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort for the Night of 100 Stars, a charity event organised by Make-A-Wish in collaboration with the Monte-Carlo Television Festival. 

Make-A-Wish CEO and President Luciano Manzo tells us more about the profound impact the charity has on critically ill children globally, and how the gala in June is just the beginning.

How did Make-a-Wish International come about? 

Make-A-Wish started in 1980 in Arizona, United States, with a little boy in Phoenix called Chris Greicius who was battling leukaemia and wanted to be a police officer. His community managed to grant his wish, and it was the first spark of a big movement that then translated into Make-A-Wish America, which has 52 chapters in the US, and Make-A-Wish International, which is responsible for everything outside of the US and includes 40 affiliates serving children in 50 countries around the world. 

How many wishes have been granted in that time? 

Since its inception, we have granted more than 550,000 wishes, which to put it into perspective, is about 10 football stadiums filled with the children that have received wishes. But the wish is not only for the child – it impacts the family, the siblings and the community. So if you multiply 550,000 by two, four, five… you can see the impact their wishes have on the entire community. 

Last year, we granted around 36,000 wishes worldwide, which is one every 16 minutes. It sounds great, but if you consider recent studies in the 50 countries where we operate that show a child is diagnosed with a critical illness every 22 seconds, the gap between 16 minutes and 22 seconds is significant. So, that’s what we are aiming for – to bridge that gap.

What impact does the granting of a wish have on the critically ill children who make them? 

The wish is not only a fleeting gift, it is a turning point in their fight against the illness, when the child replaces fear with hope for the future, and realises that the impossible can be possible. 

John, a four-year-old cystic fibrosis sufferer from Germany, wished to be a superhero

Tell us about the process of granting a wish? 

A child is normally referred to us by a medical team, parents or family, or perhaps someone who has heard about a wish. The child is then interviewed so we can determine their real wish and the effect that granting their wish will have on their mental wellness. This is what we call the ‘wish capture’. 

Once the wish is captured, a team of ‘wish grantors’ design the wish with all of their creativity to make it a memorable event. We like to say that we translate a moment into memories for life, so the wish, no matter how simple, is always wrapped in magic with something special and unforgettable for the child. 

Then, there is the ‘wish delivery’. It’s a special day for the child, as well as the family and community. After that, there is the ‘wish analysis’, to measure the impact and to ensure that everything worked well. 

We call this entire process the ‘wish journey’, and this is the uniqueness about Make-A-Wish; the various phases that build up the excitement, expectations and hope of the child. 

What kind of wishes do you grant? 

We have very complex wishes that take a lot of effort deliver, like a young boy in Canada who wanted to be Prime Minister for a week. The Canadian Parliament had a special session to nominate this little boy as Prime Minister, while Justin Trudeau sat on the other side of the desk for a week. As you can imagine, that type of wish takes a lot of work, networks, contacts and moral suasion. 

We also have very simple wishes, like a girl in India who wished to have a tablet. When I asked her if she wanted to play with the tablet, she responded, “No I’m going study because I have spent too much time away from school.”

Make-A-Wish is such a well known charity. Do you still face challenges? 

There are always challenges. Of course, we can never have enough financial means, because there are so many children out there. 

There is also the misconception that we only deal with terminal children. The vast majority of our children actually get over their illnesses and become our ambassadors, our testimonials. Like Kiara, an Italian girl who is speaking at the gala in Monaco in June. She was granted a wish to go to New York, and afterwards she had an incredible recovery from her blood disease. She is now in her third year of medical school. 

There is a small percentage of children who are terminally ill unfortunately, and the parents we speak to after their child has flown to Heaven remember the wish granting as a very special and happy moment for their child. 

Another challenge is the fact that Make-A-Wish International has a network of very diversified countries. A child in France or Switzerland can take a pill and their life is no longer in danger, for example, while that is not often the case for a child in India, Pakistan or China.

Fanfan, a four-year-old cancer sufferer in Shanghai, wished to be a police officer

What are you hoping to achieve at the Night of 100 Stars gala in Monaco in June, which is being held in partnership with the Monte-Carlo Television Festival?

The event is going to be very intimate, only 120 people maximum, because we want to test the receptiveness and the level of sensitivity we get from the audience. Then, we would like to build on this so it eventually becomes the flagship event for Make-A-Wish International. I think there is the right environment and the right profile of people that can help us sustain the cause. 

Is this part of your growth strategy moving forward for Make-A-Wish International?

It is the first public event we have organised in many years, and we would love to have Monaco as our homebase for the event every year. We are very grateful that the Monte-Carlo Television Festival invited us to be their official charity, a first in the history of the festival. 

Last year we developed ‘Vision 2030’, a plan based on the following pillars… Firstly, geographic expansion: we aim to add 10 new affiliates by 2030, and by adding new territories we will be able to reach more children. 

The second pillar is ensuring that we double the size of our revenue every five years so we are able to better support the network, to provide more sophisticated services and to hire and retain professional talent. 

All of this is to double the number of wishes by 2030. The third milestone for us will be what I call the ’25 by 25′ – that’s 25,000 wishes by 2025, then doubling that to 50,000 by 2030. 

The fourth pillar is making sure that we remain a great place to work, because the most important asset is our people. 

And last but not least, to ensure that we continue to inspire our community by walking the talk; to inspire trust and confidence, and provide value to the network so that it grows in a healthy and robust way, so that Make-A-Wish International is reaching as many children as possible in all of our territories. 

To support Make-A-Wish International and/or take part in the Night of 100 Stars charity event on 16th June, click here for tickets.


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Main photo of Luciano Manzo, President and CEO of Make-A-Wish International, and a wish recipient in India. All photos courtesy Make-A-Wish International


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