Chairman of Make-A-Wish International Victor Nichols shares the power of making critically-ill children’s dreams come true

When a child with a life-threatening illness gets his wish fulfilled, he begins a journey that brings him strength, joy and hope.

Nichols believes going through the wish journey is important to the sick child because it is a healing process (Photo: Shahril Basri/ The Edge Malaysia)

When children who are critically ill ask for something from Make-A-Wish and get it, it is just the beginning. A wish experience can help uplift, especially when they are going through crucial medical treatment, and give them the edge to fight harder against their illness.

The child who asks for a football autographed by a top player can return home and share it with his friends to play and elevate their game and, perhaps, one day, be star athletes themselves, says Victor Nichols, chairman of Make-A-Wish International (MAWI).

“That’s every bit as uplifting and rewarding as anything else. A wish is not just a wish. What’s important to the child is going through the wish journey, which itself is healing in the process.

“If you have a company and your donation helps a particular child, hopefully he or she does heal. But if they don’t, I promise you, the community, neighbours and that family will forever remember you. It will stay with them for the rest of their lives because nobody reaches out like that anymore. We wish everybody did, but it doesn’t happen enough.”

Nichols joined MAWI in November 2022, bringing with him four decades of executive leadership experience and knowledge in IT and financial services, marketing, data analytics and strategic planning. He came into the organisation after realising how many children around the globe were ill and “how precious it was to help them. I saw the power in its mission”.

What touched him most was seeing children sick through no fault of their own. “Your heart goes out to them and their family. The idea that you can give them something that makes them happy when they have no happiness in their life is worth a lot.”

MAWI aims to grant 19,000 wishes this year in 50 countries around the globe through 40 affiliates. “Life is unfair, and these 19,000 children who receive wishes are very much in need.” As chairman, Nichols’ role is to care equally for all countries and children, wherever they are.


Tan (left) and Ngiam of Make-A-Wish Malaysia, a strong affiliate, Nichols says (Photo: Shahril Basri/ The Edge Malaysia)

On a recent visit to Kuala Lumpur, he met the Malaysian team of Make-A-Wish led by CEO Irene Tan and chairperson Datin Linda Ngiam. Nichols says the country is lucky to have a strong board and urges businesses to contribute to its cause.

“If you are a successful company, it is your due to give back to the community and there’s no giving more important than helping children. And with such a strong affiliate here, you can give with confidence, knowing your money will be spent efficiently to help kids in a very meaningful way.”

In 1980, in Arizona, the US, Christopher James Greicius voiced his desire to become a police officer for a day so he could protect and save people. The seven-year-old, who was battling leukaemia, got what he asked for and Make-A-Wish was born. Since then, more than 500,000 wishes have been granted worldwide to children with life-threatening illnesses, giving them strength, joy and hope.

The Malaysian chapter started working with select hospitals in 2010, bringing renewed strength and encouragement to the child and family with each wish. Tan, CEO since 2014, had joined as a volunteer three years prior after leaving the corporate world. Ngiam, who retired as group managing director/CEO of The Star Media Group in 2011, has been on the board since 2018 and became chair last year.

Longevity in the job leads to discipline and skill and, hence, a strong affiliate. As a result, people are confident about donating to it, Nichols reasons.

Looking at how every country is different with its own personality, culture, religion and politics, there is no one best way for an affiliate to expand, he adds. There are rules of engagement, but they are not authoritative. “Make-A-Wish is an institution that performs very well and has a unique, strong, global model to do so.”

It takes certain characteristics to run the organisation and caring is the strongest. “But you cannot do it on a global basis in one manner. Besides being caring, you need to have an open mind and trust in humans in all the countries that they can manage their best method for their complex environment. And believe in them. You establish the governance and guardrails and unite around them so no one affiliate can do anything bad that would impact the brand or the other members.”

Volunteers around the globe are carefully trained to take the child through a “wish journey” whereby he is lifted out of his current frame of mind to think about a brighter future and what he would like. They return for discussions until the child under their care finally decides that “this is what I would really enjoy and like”.



“Wishes that take on different dimensions are hard to fulfil; they consume the children. But when they fulfil them, it’s life-changing,” Nichols says.

“Many people refer to this as intermediation, that hope heals. There’s a reason most of our wishes come from the medical community. Doctors know there is often an edge a child needs to come out of to accept the medicine and treatments better and improve his odds of recovery. That’s why a wish is so important. It’s taking them through this whole healing journey.”

As for what children wish for, it could be as diverse as wanting to meet a pop idol, spending a day with top engineers certifying an aircraft or even reconnecting with the surgeon who had originally treated them and saved their life.

A wish could be going to Disneyland — “Disney is certainly one of our greatest supporters” — for different reasons: to be a fairy, an actor or just for the rides. Children’s imagination is endless and a wish for a soccer ball in different colours in India is every bit as healing as wanting to certify an aeroplane in another part of the world or dressing up as a princess, he adds.

Sadly, some children do reach a point where it is tough for them to fight on, and they know, especially if they are a little bit older. “Sometimes, we end up with what are considered rush wishes — because we can still do it for them and bring that one moment of happiness. It is very valuable and rewarding, and it transcends through their family.

“But we also do it for the others who will make it, as we might be the edge that helps them succeed and live. There’s a great number who will heal and it makes the difference,” says Nichols.

MAWI’s mission is to fulfil the wishes of every eligible child and it is looking to expand into more countries, particularly Asia. Much of Africa and some places in Latin America are not represented at all.

Expansion requires a lot of work, the first of which involves ensuring the brand is really understood and people know what it is. “Make-A-Wish is something that’s absolutely required for children who are very ill, and that’s why businesses should be giving to it readily. I’m happy to go around convincing people about that."



Besides supporting affiliates in their different stages of work and with wish assists — say, someone from the East wants to meet Justin Bieber — MAWI also works on keeping donors and their donations sustainable.

In some countries, a programme enables shoppers to round up their purchases as they check out with a merchant. When they put in their credit card to pay a bill for, say RM12.47, they have the option to round it up to RM13. The extra goes towards Make-A-Wish. “That’s growing and representing sizeable money.”

“We need things like that so the fundraising can be sustainable and you’re not starting over every single year. We need to get a stronger network of volunteers because the work is very taxing. We need innovation, partners and new channels. So, we’re working on all of that for the affiliates constantly.

Every year, representatives from affiliate countries meet over two days to train and share best practices on a variety of subjects.

“They are from every religion, political background and economic situation and are as varied as the world. We will have a happy, productive educational session where there are no boundaries and no issues.”

The annual conference represents what human life is really like, Nichols says, as “95% of the world just wants good things. They might have their own religious beliefs, politics or environment, but they’re not judging someone else’s. They all come together and work in harmony. It’s magnificent”.


Make-A-Wish depends solely on donations to realise all the wishes of critically ill children. Help bring joy back into the lives of affected families by donating to the cause. See here for details.

This article first appeared on Dec 4, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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