Anna Fife

Anna Payne Fife

MBA '14, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology



Ask Anna Payne Fife (MBA ’14), senior director of strategic initiatives at the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology, what skill she uses most from her MBA and the answer snaps to mind.

“Stakeholder theory,” she says. “It’s so relevant —being able to think about who your different stakeholders are, what they need, and how they can have a voice in the process. It’s the foundation for creating lasting, sustainable change.”

Serving stakeholders—alumni, students, and professors—is at the heart of what Fife does for Batten. She joined the staff in 2023, focusing on, among other things, the Batten Scholars program and alumni engagement opportunities.

“We know there is a lot of programming going on for students while they are on grounds,” she reflects. “One area of the Institute we’re growing is support for and engagement with alumni after Darden once they’ve gained industry experience and new networks. Often, they are few years out from graduation when they find themselves ready to start their own venture.”
Fife came to Darden from a career in the public sector to pursue opportunities in the space where government, business, and the social sector interact. She grew up in central Virginia, the youngest child of Virginia Congressman L.F. Payne (MBA ‘73). “The idea of service and supporting community was engrained in me early,” she says. 

After graduating from Dartmouth College with a degree in geography, she worked for then-newly elected Senator Mark Warner (D-Va), a job which required her to be entrepreneurial. She recalls early days in Warner’s first term sitting with other staffers in a windowless basement office confronting a massive pile of physical mail. “We needed to figure out office systems like correspondence and communication. We needed to figure out how to speak in Senator Warner’s voice and be in sync with the Senator’s positions as new issues arose,” she recalls. She eventually became a legislative assistant, serving as the Senator’s lead policy staff member on environmental and agricultural policy, including the Farm Bill and funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration. She saw firsthand how policy could bring together different stakeholder groups and the Senator’s work to bridge ideological gaps. It also sparked an interest in thinking about sustainability with a wider lens.

Working for Senator Warner, who ran for Senate after a business career that included co-founding telecommunications giant Nextel, encouraged Fife to consider an MBA. Even though she lacked a traditional business background, “Darden welcomes diversity of thought, so I was able to jump right in,” she says. “I was able to ask good questions even if I was out of my depth or experience. I learned how to add value by being inquisitive.”

But even while learning about the ins and outs of business, Fife stayed true to her social-mission roots. While a Darden student, Fife did an independent study with Local Food Hub, an advocacy group supporting small farmers and widening access to locally grown food; after graduation, she joined the non-profit’s board of directors. In her second year, she also helped administer the Darden Nonprofit Internship Fund, helping classmates secure grants to work for non-profits, and supported the launch of the Tri-Sector Leaders program run by the Institute for Business in Society.

After Darden, propelled by the idea that a more just and equitable world is also a more sustainable one, Fife joined the national anti-hunger non-profit Share Our Strength and then the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work initiative which developed policy ideas for workers impacted by a changing economy. “We were looking at the structure of work, and how tech and automation may change jobs,” she says. “Recognizing there weren’t many policy solutions to support workers who might be left behind as jobs change, we sought to develop and share concrete policy proposals for local, state and federal policymakers.”

That’s where being back at Darden is a full circle moment for Fife, who is passionate about using education to expand opportunity and solve pressing problems. She’s met with Darden students interested in sustainability and social justice, who want to join climate tech startups or create fintech companies to broaden access to financial tools for underserved populations.

“Being at Darden, I get to connect with the best and brightest students, with future founders, with the best teaching faculty in the world and through that work, I hope to have the chance to support them in building enduring organizations and sharing thought leadership that can have a big impact on workers, on communities and on society,” she says. “We all have the opportunity to make a mark on the world.”