Atanas Genkov is a trainer, dedicated to personal development, who calls himself “an assistant to nature”, because it is our true teacher. He has over 10 years of international experience in coaching and training experience design, and consults on the topic of sustainable development. He has a Master’s degree in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability, defended in Sweden. Practitioner of “The Art of Hosting” which he believes can make the communication process more effective, fruitful and satisfying for participants.

Nasko and we, the team of VIA CIVIC, are connected by the understanding that every training is an experience, a journey towards ourselves, but also towards others. That’s why together, as true designers, we create the stage to which we invite the participants. We also come up with the challenges to unlock new sides in them. We provoke them to look for the answers to questions that they don’t have time to ask in everyday life.

In the interview Nasko shares more about what it is to be a good trainer, how the informal methodology works and what the wild calls for.

How would you describe yourself?

Tough question! I consider myself to be a multi-faceted person with a myriad of interests, perhaps the unifying bonds being my curiosity and exploratory spirit. I love to explore new territories, sometimes they are in other countries, sometimes in our wild mountains, and often in the human psyche… That’s why I’m committed to working with people, training for self-discovery and personal growth, and why I prefer to conduct them in the wild of our beautiful mountains.

You are committed to training based on nonformal methodology. What is it, what is the key to its success and for what purposes is it applied?

Nonformal methodology is very valuable to me, where the focus is not on a theory or approach, but on the learner. Everything revolves around the learner because we are all different, we learn differently, we have different needs. This methodology is much more intuitive, there are no right and wrong answers, there are no tests and assessments, and at the same time it is much more effective because it is fun – it uses games, communication and experiential learning – all things that are genetically hardwired into us, and through which we learn from a young age. It is applicable in every field (and has been used for a very long time), making learning more enjoyable, fun and memorable because it works more fully with our being – involving not only the mind, but also the body, and emotions.

What makes a trainer good, in your opinion? I ask, because it is very easy for anyone to proclaim themselves an Erasmus+ trainer…

Formal diplomas and certificates have a role to play, even in non-formal education, but as elsewhere – they are not enough. It is really difficult to evaluate a trainer (educator), experience is important of course, but it is not enough by itself. Our work is, in a sense, both an art and a craft, and a vocation, it also takes talent and flair, and care… So it is best appreciated when you experience it. And so the best evaluation is the feedback of the participants themselves, and the testimonials they write about the effectiveness of the trainings, the stories they tell afterwards, how these experiences have changed their lives for the better.

How have you developed yourself as a trainer and is it important to have qualifications?

For me, the main thing was the experience gained from hundreds of trainings – as a participant, as an assistant and as a presenter. I started as a youngster, because I was interested and motivated to learn and develop in this field. I had the chance to travel, including with programs like Erasmus+, and learn from many good professionals all over the world. Of course, there are some good courses and trainings for trainers, I have attended dozens myself, but as with everything else – on their own, they are not enough. An education in psychology is also useful, but not enough. Perhaps the key lies in the palette – in the variety of approaches, methods and learning experiences. Just as in nonformal methodology – diversity is key!

What skills or qualities does one need to have, in order to feel people as individuals and as a group, to lead them in the right direction?

Ah, that’s a tough question too 😊 Much of this work is built on both experience and intuition. Yet, if I had to list qualities and skills, I would highlight the following three:

Observation. Very key at any given moment, and it’s also important to be able to change perspectives quickly – to see both the big picture – the group, the context, the goals – and the small details, emotions, patterns of behaviour. Without this quality, we would have a hard time training and leading people.

Caring and sensitivity. But without attachment! That is, not the care that caters to petty needs and whims, but the care that allows us to see the person in all their fullness, with all their talents, emotions, strengths and weaknesses. And to support them to show themselves more often in their best light. And this sometimes requires us to be stricter and harsher 😊

Faith. A very strong belief in the good in people, in their abilities, in the learning process and in life in general. I believe without this ingredient we would hardly achieve anything substantial.

Tell us a bit about the methods you use, for example “Art of Hosting” – where do you borrow them from, have you tested them and do they work?

Diversity of methods is very important to me, so I try to combine as wide a range as possible, of course, selecting them from my own experience and practice, i.e. testing them to see if they work! When I say work, I mean – do they achieve the goals that the participants set for themselves. This is the main criterion – whether people learn and achieve what they came for.

The “Art of Hosting” (a practice also known as Participatory Leadership) is something very interesting, it is more than a methodology though it involves many methods. In English we would translate it as “The Art of Hosting” – but don’t be fooled – it’s not about cooking (although that is important). It’s about how to be a good host for any communication process – it could be a workshop, seminar, training, conference or just a friendly conversation. How to predispose everyone to participate, to give their best so that together we can achieve a truly satisfying outcome. Of course, there is a lot of depth beyond this brief description, if you want to learn more you can check out our Bulgaria community page.

We promote that through our programs, through this learning experience that we offer them together, young people can find themselves, their purpose – do you think we are succeeding? Increasingly we hear that they are rethinking their choices, they don’t know who they are and what they are capable of – how does one find themselves in the modern world?

Ah, another very profound question! The main thing we offer is a set of experiences through which young people can see themselves. This is the first step, and we give them a kind of mirror, through which they can see themselves in depth, understand themselves better, and using this knowledge be better and live a fuller life.

Where are the others in our own film – do we discover ourselves through them or do they only create unnecessary noise and disturb us?

The others are a very important part – they often “get in our way” and we cannot do without them. We all know we are social beings and it is important to learn to live in harmony with our communities – family, friends, neighbours, etc. That is why we do the training in a group, and for a few days, we create such a small community of mutual help and support. We often come across people who annoy us, and they are the best mirrors to help us see who we are!

What is the role of mountains and nature in your methodology?

Huge! 😊 For me nature is everything, it is our home, it is where we are most real. It unlocks everything hidden, takes off our urban masks and pretences, and even heals us on a very deep level. When I take people into the mountains, I am the assistant trainer, the Master Trainer is the mountain itself! It teaches us so much, and there is always something new to learn from it, such as how to be more calm, confident, accepting, strong, understanding and loving.

What are the brakes of today’s people?

Most of the brakes we put on ourselves. Like so-called limiting beliefs, i.e. things we believe in that prevent us from living the life we want. The most common such belief is that we are not enough… The multiplicity can be filled with anything – not brave enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, weak enough, talented enough, rich enough, capable enough, etc. Usually, these beliefs are born in childhood when adults tell us everything we CAN’T do. And at some point, we believe them and we really can’t. Then we grow up and start telling others (including children) how they can’t either… And so, a vicious cycle is created. Fortunately, there is a way out, though not an easy one – it’s one of the things we learn during learning experiences – how to turn limiting beliefs into supportive ones.

What most often stops people from developing?

Their beliefs! Limiting beliefs are people’s biggest brake. These beliefs can be about life, about the world, about people, but most often they are about ourselves and what we can and cannot do. It is the belief that this is who I am and I can’t change that is the most common stopper for people to develop. I don’t think there is a ceiling for development, except the one we set for ourselves. And there is always room for learning and development, it is no coincidence that wise people have said that life is learning and one learns while one is alive.

Our trainings create a very specific atmosphere to encourage growth and development, can this change be sustained when participants return to their daily lives?

Good question. It is! We create a pretty cohesive and strong community that supports the participants, and when they return to their daily lives and surroundings, the easiest thing to do is to return to old habits and patterns of behaviour. That’s probably the hardest part – making the lessons sustainable. Often, this doesn’t happen with just one experience. So, it’s important to focus on small steps, but make them sustainable, i.e. integrate them into our daily routine and make them part of the routine, this of course requires will and effort, but I have a number of techniques that help us in this task. One of them is to build our own learning and support community, it might be online, and often we have such a community – our friends. When we share with them what we want to change, what goals we have set, and how they can support us, the task becomes easier and more achievable. And here comes to me an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together (with a group)”.

What is your most important message?

My most important message is to cherish and enjoy our common home – nature – without it we are gone – to protect it, love it and learn from it! Get out in nature often and that alone will change you for the better, make you healthier and happier.

Atanas Genkov is a trainer, dedicated to personal development, who calls himself “an assistant to nature”, because it is our true teacher. He has over 10 years of international experience in coaching and training experience design, and consults on the topic of sustainable development. He has a Master’s degree in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability, defended in Sweden. Practitioner of “The Art of Hosting” which he believes can make the communication process more effective, fruitful and satisfying for participants.

Nasko and we, the team of VIA CIVIC, are connected by the understanding that every training is an experience, a journey towards ourselves, but also towards others. That’s why together, as true designers, we create the stage to which we invite the participants. We also come up with the challenges to unlock new sides in them. We provoke them to look for the answers to questions that they don’t have time to ask in everyday life.

In the interview Nasko shares more about what it is to be a good trainer, how the informal methodology works and what the wild calls for.

How would you describe yourself?

Tough question! I consider myself to be a multi-faceted person with a myriad of interests, perhaps the unifying bonds being my curiosity and exploratory spirit. I love to explore new territories, sometimes they are in other countries, sometimes in our wild mountains, and often in the human psyche… That’s why I’m committed to working with people, training for self-discovery and personal growth, and why I prefer to conduct them in the wild of our beautiful mountains.

You are committed to training based on nonformal methodology. What is it, what is the key to its success and for what purposes is it applied?

Nonformal methodology is very valuable to me, where the focus is not on a theory or approach, but on the learner. Everything revolves around the learner because we are all different, we learn differently, we have different needs. This methodology is much more intuitive, there are no right and wrong answers, there are no tests and assessments, and at the same time it is much more effective because it is fun – it uses games, communication and experiential learning – all things that are genetically hardwired into us, and through which we learn from a young age. It is applicable in every field (and has been used for a very long time), making learning more enjoyable, fun and memorable because it works more fully with our being – involving not only the mind, but also the body, and emotions.

What makes a trainer good, in your opinion? I ask, because it is very easy for anyone to proclaim themselves an Erasmus+ trainer…

Formal diplomas and certificates have a role to play, even in non-formal education, but as elsewhere – they are not enough. It is really difficult to evaluate a trainer (educator), experience is important of course, but it is not enough by itself. Our work is, in a sense, both an art and a craft, and a vocation, it also takes talent and flair, and care… So it is best appreciated when you experience it. And so the best evaluation is the feedback of the participants themselves, and the testimonials they write about the effectiveness of the trainings, the stories they tell afterwards, how these experiences have changed their lives for the better.

How have you developed yourself as a trainer and is it important to have qualifications?

For me, the main thing was the experience gained from hundreds of trainings – as a participant, as an assistant and as a presenter. I started as a youngster, because I was interested and motivated to learn and develop in this field. I had the chance to travel, including with programs like Erasmus+, and learn from many good professionals all over the world. Of course, there are some good courses and trainings for trainers, I have attended dozens myself, but as with everything else – on their own, they are not enough. An education in psychology is also useful, but not enough. Perhaps the key lies in the palette – in the variety of approaches, methods and learning experiences. Just as in nonformal methodology – diversity is key!

What skills or qualities does one need to have, in order to feel people as individuals and as a group, to lead them in the right direction?

Ah, that’s a tough question too 😊 Much of this work is built on both experience and intuition. Yet, if I had to list qualities and skills, I would highlight the following three:

Observation. Very key at any given moment, and it’s also important to be able to change perspectives quickly – to see both the big picture – the group, the context, the goals – and the small details, emotions, patterns of behaviour. Without this quality, we would have a hard time training and leading people.

Caring and sensitivity. But without attachment! That is, not the care that caters to petty needs and whims, but the care that allows us to see the person in all their fullness, with all their talents, emotions, strengths and weaknesses. And to support them to show themselves more often in their best light. And this sometimes requires us to be stricter and harsher 😊

Faith. A very strong belief in the good in people, in their abilities, in the learning process and in life in general. I believe without this ingredient we would hardly achieve anything substantial.

Tell us a bit about the methods you use, for example “Art of Hosting” – where do you borrow them from, have you tested them and do they work?

Diversity of methods is very important to me, so I try to combine as wide a range as possible, of course, selecting them from my own experience and practice, i.e. testing them to see if they work! When I say work, I mean – do they achieve the goals that the participants set for themselves. This is the main criterion – whether people learn and achieve what they came for.

The “Art of Hosting” (a practice also known as Participatory Leadership) is something very interesting, it is more than a methodology though it involves many methods. In English we would translate it as “The Art of Hosting” – but don’t be fooled – it’s not about cooking (although that is important). It’s about how to be a good host for any communication process – it could be a workshop, seminar, training, conference or just a friendly conversation. How to predispose everyone to participate, to give their best so that together we can achieve a truly satisfying outcome. Of course, there is a lot of depth beyond this brief description, if you want to learn more you can check out our Bulgaria community page.

We promote that through our programs, through this learning experience that we offer them together, young people can find themselves, their purpose – do you think we are succeeding? Increasingly we hear that they are rethinking their choices, they don’t know who they are and what they are capable of – how does one find themselves in the modern world?

Ah, another very profound question! The main thing we offer is a set of experiences through which young people can see themselves. This is the first step, and we give them a kind of mirror, through which they can see themselves in depth, understand themselves better, and using this knowledge be better and live a fuller life.

Where are the others in our own film – do we discover ourselves through them or do they only create unnecessary noise and disturb us?

The others are a very important part – they often “get in our way” and we cannot do without them. We all know we are social beings and it is important to learn to live in harmony with our communities – family, friends, neighbours, etc. That is why we do the training in a group, and for a few days, we create such a small community of mutual help and support. We often come across people who annoy us, and they are the best mirrors to help us see who we are!

What is the role of mountains and nature in your methodology?

Huge! 😊 For me nature is everything, it is our home, it is where we are most real. It unlocks everything hidden, takes off our urban masks and pretences, and even heals us on a very deep level. When I take people into the mountains, I am the assistant trainer, the Master Trainer is the mountain itself! It teaches us so much, and there is always something new to learn from it, such as how to be more calm, confident, accepting, strong, understanding and loving.

What are the brakes of today’s people?

Most of the brakes we put on ourselves. Like so-called limiting beliefs, i.e. things we believe in that prevent us from living the life we want. The most common such belief is that we are not enough… The multiplicity can be filled with anything – not brave enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, weak enough, talented enough, rich enough, capable enough, etc. Usually, these beliefs are born in childhood when adults tell us everything we CAN’T do. And at some point, we believe them and we really can’t. Then we grow up and start telling others (including children) how they can’t either… And so, a vicious cycle is created. Fortunately, there is a way out, though not an easy one – it’s one of the things we learn during learning experiences – how to turn limiting beliefs into supportive ones.

What most often stops people from developing?

Their beliefs! Limiting beliefs are people’s biggest brake. These beliefs can be about life, about the world, about people, but most often they are about ourselves and what we can and cannot do. It is the belief that this is who I am and I can’t change that is the most common stopper for people to develop. I don’t think there is a ceiling for development, except the one we set for ourselves. And there is always room for learning and development, it is no coincidence that wise people have said that life is learning and one learns while one is alive.

Our trainings create a very specific atmosphere to encourage growth and development, can this change be sustained when participants return to their daily lives?

Good question. It is! We create a pretty cohesive and strong community that supports the participants, and when they return to their daily lives and surroundings, the easiest thing to do is to return to old habits and patterns of behaviour. That’s probably the hardest part – making the lessons sustainable. Often, this doesn’t happen with just one experience. So, it’s important to focus on small steps, but make them sustainable, i.e. integrate them into our daily routine and make them part of the routine, this of course requires will and effort, but I have a number of techniques that help us in this task. One of them is to build our own learning and support community, it might be online, and often we have such a community – our friends. When we share with them what we want to change, what goals we have set, and how they can support us, the task becomes easier and more achievable. And here comes to me an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together (with a group)”.

What is your most important message?

My most important message is to cherish and enjoy our common home – nature – without it we are gone – to protect it, love it and learn from it! Get out in nature often and that alone will change you for the better, make you healthier and happier.

This post is also available in: Български